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Six Tips for Making Successful Debt Collection Calls

Robert M. Tharnish, Senior Vice President, Quality Assurance & Attorney Network Services, ABC-Amega Inc.

Debt Collection Tips That Get Results

For most people, picking up the phone to call a customer and ask them for money isn’t the highlight of their day. In fact, in most overworked and understaffed credit departments, collection calls are placed dead last or fall off the “to-do list” altogether.

Why? Reasons vary. But basically, the truth is that making debt collection calls takes most people out of their comfort zone. They don’t feel confident with the process, so they fear embarrassment or failure.

If collections is part of your job responsibilities, here’s some good news. You can succeed in collecting debt effectively with these six debt collection techniques from our certified professional.

#1 Always Be Prepared – Generally and Specifically

NASCAR great Bobby Unser is credited as saying, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” We couldn’t agree more. You can never be over-prepared when it comes to tackling a collection call.

Be Ready to Handle Excuses

Before making your next collection call, take time to compile a list of common customer excuses, matching them with effective rebuttals.

Pre-creating a list of common customer excuses with effective rebuttals is a successful debt collection technique to ensure you get the best results.

You can write them down on file cards or include them in your computer scripting. Group them by category and keep them handy. Exchange debt collection techniques and ideas with others in your department. Then, when the customer tries to end the call by offering an excuse, you can take control by countering with a well-thought-out reply and returning to the purpose of your call — collecting the debt.

Here are some good debt collection script examples from our collection experts to get you started:

Customer: The check is in the mail.

Collector: Great! May I have the check number, amount, and date it was mailed so I can ensure it is posted correctly?

Customer: I have a cash flow problem right now.

Collector: I understand that times are difficult. Can I set you up on a payment plan, or can you make at least a partial payment today?

Customer: I don’t have a copy of the invoice.

Collector: I’ll send the invoice over right now. Will you be mailing the check today or can you pay by phone?

If you want to see more examples, check out this article: 3 Real-World Examples of Effective Debt Collection Call Scripts

Arm Yourself with the Facts

Being a good debt collector means knowing the specifics of the debt you’re calling about before picking the phone up. Having the facts in front of you keeps you in control. You don’t want the conversation to get derailed by a question you can’t answer. Many customers know how to use this to their advantage. Suddenly they can’t discuss payment on their account without details you don’t have and they don’t “have in front of them” either. So, the call is over.

If you hear yourself saying, “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” you’ve just given the customer an extension without a commitment to pay ” and you’ll have to start from square one with him when you call back.

At a minimum, be sure to have the following in front of you before you make any collection call:

  • Exact amount owed
  • Terms of sale
  • Products/services purchased
  • Payment due date
  • Other open invoices, even those not yet past due

Know Who You’re Calling

It’s also helpful to brief yourself on the customer’s payment record with your company, as well as any other payment history you may have available to you. Do they usually pay on time? Are payments getting slower and slower? Is past-due payment uncharacteristic of this customer?

#2 Think Positively

Your mental state has a strong impact both on how you handle the past due customer and how they respond to you. Treat each call as if it was your first call of the day. Put a smile on your face. If you were irritated on the previous call, take a few minutes to calm yourself and start fresh. The customer will respond to your tone. Your upbeat mood will be contagious, and you are likely to get a more positive response from the customer.

#3 Speak Professionally and Authoritatively

Most of us take our speaking voices for granted. But the tone, pitch, inflection, and even the speed at which you talk can have a powerful influence on your listener. Think about typical news anchors or radio commentators. They have voices that command attention. With a little effort, you can develop one too.

Script your prospective debt collection call opening, record and listen to yourself. Make adjustments as needed, and try again. This will not only improve how you come across on the phone, but it will also build confidence. Taking a little extra time and work to prepare yourself for a call will help you be a successful debt collector. Remember, success is strongly linked for preparation.

Here are a few good collection phone call tips that might help:

  • Don’t chew gum or drink when you’re on the phone
  • Speak a bit slower and enunciate
  • Use a lower-pitched voice
  • Pause more often
  • Make sure you pronounce the ending consonants of words and don’t slur
  • Smile while you talk — although the person on the end of the line can’t see it, they will hear it; and everyone responds more openly to a smile than to a scowl

Adhering to these simple collection call tips will greatly improve your telephony skills and give you the authority to command the conversation.

#4 Take Control and Don’t Let Go

You can manage the call in such a way that you control the customer’s response. In addition to what we already mentioned about preparation and voice, here are some good debt collection techniques::

Address the customer by name throughout the conversation. This shows respect on your part and commands their attention. Be careful not to overdo it though, or it will start to sound contrived and annoying.

Make the customer right, even when they are wrong. You may not agree with what they’re saying, but you can still validate it. After an objection or excuse, say, “I can understand why you feel that way.” Or, “I can certainly see how something like that might happen.” Validating what the customer has to say maintains open lines of communication. Understanding their point of view, even as you share yours, will disarm the customer’s defensiveness.

Ask open-ended questions. Try to get the customer to give you as much information as possible. For instance, bank information is critical, yet many customers may not want to share it. Instead of coming straight out and asking, “Where is your account?” try “Will you be sending a check or paying by phone?” If they say “a check.” You respond, “That’s fine. So we don’t miss it, which bank will it be drawn on?”

Listen carefully and take notes.You will get clues as to whether the customer is serious about paying. You’ll also have ammunition for your next debt collection call and will be ready to counter any excuses that may have been tried in the past.

Use silence.Count slowly to five before responding to a customer statement, and wait several seconds after asking a question. Leaving silent pauses in the conversation compels the debtor to fill them in.

Stay focused. Some customers will try to get you off track by complaining about service, or somehow shifting the blame for their delinquency to you. Be polite, even validate their opinion, but always bring them right back to the point of your call — getting paid the money rightfully due to your company.

Don’t let the customer manipulate you. A screaming customer could be using anger as a ploy to get you upset and end the conversation. At the very least, you’re not going to get anywhere with someone that’s angry.

If a customer starts yelling or using abusive language, stay calm. Try reminding them that you cannot help resolve the situation if they are yelling. If that doesn’t work, say something like, “This obviously isn’t a good time for you. When can I call you back?”

You could also try a tactic that one of ABC-Amega’s top debt collectors employs. Say, “Could you hang on a moment? I can’t understand what you’re saying.” Put the phone down for several seconds, then pick it up again stating, “I’m back.” That few seconds of silence will often calm the customer down enough so that you can carry on with the discussion in a more reasonable manner.

#5 Nail Things Down

A debt collection call that doesn’t result in a commitment from the customer is a wasted call. If you can’t get them to commit to payment in full, get a promise of something — a partial payment or a call back with a payment date. Make sure you control the timing. Don’t ask, “When can you get back to me on this?” Rather, ask “Will you be calling me by Wednesday?”

Don’t hang up the phone without summarizing the results of the call. Review their commitment, your expectations, and the consequences if your expectations are not met. Emphasize the urgency of the matter. It’s easy for the customer to forget what you’ve agreed upon as soon as the call ends, especially if they don’t think you were really concerned about the outcome.

Stress the importance that the customer call you back on the date they promise payment — to let you know the check has been sent. If they fail to call, the payment likely didn’t happen. You won’t waste time waiting for a check that was never mailed.

And finally, if the customer doesn’t follow through on their commitment, make sure you follow through on the consequences. If you don’t, they will never take you seriously.

#6 Learn to be Flexible

Following the above advice will help improve the effectiveness of your collection phone calls, but there is no magic formula in debt collection. Every customer is different. What works really well with one, may get you nowhere with another. Listen carefully to the customer and you will pick up clues for the best way to collect debt effectively.

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As a senior professional with ABC-Amega, Bob Tharnish manages global collections for key clients. He is also responsible for monitoring the performance of our worldwide affiliate attorney network. Click here for more information about Bob’s career at ABC.

For tips and information about commercial collections, check out these other articles on our website:

To learn more about our commercial collection services contact our team at 844.937.3268 today!