What to Say When a Consumer Says an Account Isn't Their Priority

| Mary Shores

When I provide collector training, a common consumer objection collectors bring up is when a consumer says his account is not a priority to him at the moment.

It’s easy to hear this phrase and immediately assume the consumer is using it as an excuse to get you off the phone.

It can be helpful to take the consumer’s words at face value, though. Maybe the consumer does have other priorities.

All humans are driven by basic survival instincts. Psychologist Abraham Maslow coined these instincts “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs” to explain how human behavior is dependent on meeting specific levels of needs. If one level is not met, the human cannot reach the next one.

Hierarchy of Human Needs

hierarchy of human needs. pyramid pf physiological needs.

The bottom tier of the pyramid is “physiological needs.” These include shelter, food, and water. In other words, if a consumer is struggling to make next month’s rent, he can’t move up the pyramid to prioritize other needs because his shelter needs are at risk.

This is why empathy is so important in collections. If collectors can grasp this concept and truly understand where consumers are coming from, they can help consumers feel heard and build a connection that motivates consumers to pay and meets their needs more effectively.

So, when a consumer says a bill isn’t his main priority, that’s OK; you can still use my three-step Communication Code to try to collect. After all, the Code brings humanity to collections, which is exactly what these consumers need.

Three Steps of the Communication Code

To recap, here are the Three Steps of the Communication Code:

1. Validating

2. Planting seeds of happiness

3. Providing an action statement

If you're new here, you can read more about the Code here.

In the scenario previously described, here is how the conversation might flow using the Code:

The consumer says: “You are not a priority at the moment,” meaning their collection account at your agency is not important to them.

Using the Code, my suggested response for collectors is:


Validation: "I completely understand. So many people are telling us the same thing,

Seed of Happiness: so you are not alone.

Action Statement: Let me ask you a question: How are you feeling about your finances  over the next few weeks?"

Because this circumstance is sensitive and this question is open-ended, the consumer will likely provide you with a long-winded response.

Listen to what they have to say and gather essential information. Some examples of information the consumer might provide in this instance are whether he has recently filed for unemployment or has recently had a large unexpected expense.

Listening and Validation in Collections

After listening closely to the consumer's response, use another validating phrase like “I appreciate you sharing that with me” to let the consumer know he has been heard.

Validation is important because it builds empathy, and empathy builds trust. Trust is critical in any relationship; it determines whether people want to engage with you further. 

Now, you might worry that once you go down the road of talking openly about feelings the conversation may get stuck there. Maybe you're scared you will waste valuable time. The truth is, validation actually saves time. This is because the consumer will feel heard. This will make them emotionally ready to move on in the conversation.

If you don’t validate and choose to skip this step, the person you’re speaking to will repeatedly bring the conversation back. They will repeat the story over and over until they feel heard.

Asking the consumer how they feel about their finances over the next few weeks also completely changes the energy or flow of the conversation. Labeling how we feel uses a different part of the brain to process the answer. According to Matthew Lieberman of UCLA, the act of labeling a feeling instantly reduces the stress response.

When collectors acknowledge consumers’ feelings, they help consumers move on in calls and become emotionally ready to hear collectors' solutions. 

The Power of Positive Language in Collections

Next, in this scenario I encourage collectors to give the consumers they’re speaking to a sigh of relief by using positive language (seeds of happiness). Positive phrases like I’ve got great news for you," tap into consumers’ parasympathetic nervous systems. This will allow them to relax. It also allows them to be present for your solution, which leads me to my next suggestion.

I always urge collectors to follow up the previous statement by saying what they can do. How that might sound in this scenario is:“We have some options available to meet your needs. What I can do for you is...." Then, the collector goes into what those options are.

Even if the solution is not the exact one the consumer is looking for, there’s always something you can do. Demonstrating your willingness to find an alternative solution can help you create a positive connection with that person. Saying what you can do builds respect and loyalty; it makes the other person feel important and valued.

Altogether, here is how the conversation could flow after the consumer responds to your question "How are you feeling about your finances over the next few weeks?"


Validation: "I appreciate you sharing that with me.

Seed of Happiness: I have great news for you.

Action Statement: We have some options available to meet your needs. What I can do for you is... ."

Final Thoughts 

Ultimately, you may be surprised how often these conversations result in payment when the Communication Code is implemented correctly. Empathy goes a long way.

To learn more about how the Collection Advantage online training program can you help you create a team of empathetic and high-converting collectors, book a call with me here.

If this content resonates with you, I also encourage you to check out the below video clip I filmed with that explores the topic of empathy some more.

It's possible to end difficult calls on a positive note. Find out how in the video here.

To see this post as it was originally written, visit

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