Employees can be trained to collect although experienced collectors may have some advantages (see the GRCA series on Staffing). Some collection offices elect to hire individuals who have no collection experience believing an employee without ingrained behaviors or routines can learn the job the way you intend it.
There are no shortage of books on collecting and a number of consultants that specialize in collection training. Costs vary, of course. Whether you select a training firm or do it yourself, basic collector training should include these essential elements.
Those new to collections should understand the role customer service plays in collections. In some instances the government cannot refuse services to individuals or control their accumulation of debt. Court collection is a great example. Collectors cannot control how often a person offends and cannot keep the court from assessing more fines.
Government collectors also deal with tax payers and elected officials who value customer service above almost everything. No elected official likes complaints, even if they are generated by folks who owe money.
Customer service means collecting the debt fairly while retaining customer goodwill. It does not mean the customer is always right or that legal action shouldn’t be taken. Collectors should approach accounts knowing that they may need to deal with this customer down the road or face-to-face.
Strong interpersonal skills are integral to good collections. Collectors must be able to work in a team environment. Most governments do not offer commissions or cash incentives so working for the success of the team is essential.
Collectors need to interact professionally within their team, resolving conflicts and learning about their teammates. Many government collectors will also be exposed to face-to-face customer relations and should feel comfortable with this when they’re hired. Training on interpersonal skills will help their confidence and assertiveness when customers come to the office.
Developing good phone skills is clearly essential to successful collections. Role playing is a handy method for training phone technique. Make sure your training program includes instruction on:
Listening – Good collectors are good listeners. They are listening for the meaning behind what is being said rather than the tone of voice. They know that letting the debtor talk freely gives them insight into how they might collect the debt.
Speaking – Telephone etiquette is important for all professionals and collectors are no exception. Good communication skills are necessary as this individual may be the only interaction a customer has with your organization.
Your new collector should strive to find their telephone “personality.” Most people have heard that 80% of communication is non-verbal, using facial cues and body language to help us respond appropriately. Phone collectors must make up for the lack of visual information by using their voice to impart information about the situation. Tone of voice, cadence of speech, timing, and inflection are critical.
New collectors should be given instruction on not only what questions to ask but how to ask them in a way that will elicit responses. The best collectors ask leading questions designed to keep the debtor talking.
Making a collection call is like telling a story, it has a beginning, middle, and an end. New collectors can easily learn how to structure their calls using the typical call model:
Questioning the debtor
Closing the call
Negotiation is fundamental to collections but not everyone is a natural negotiator. New collectors will need to overcome any reservations they have about asking people for money and learn to negotiate with finesse and tact. Running through typical scenarios during training will help new collectors overcome customer objections. They can also gain valuable information by listening to their coworkers as they make calls.
Effective collection requires the management of emotions. It’s easy for new collectors to take calls personally and allow their emotions to override their training. Collecting is stressful and burnout is a real side-effect of someone who cannot adequately manage job stress. Encourage new collectors to practice stress management techniques.
Most collection office work within not only state or local regulations but also federal guidelines like the FDCPA and FCRA. Make sure all new recruits know the ins and outs of any laws that pertain to your debts.
Working with bankruptcies, foreclosures and disputes are commonplace. Make sure trainees understand the rules for how your office handles debts affected by special circumstances.
Skip tracing is another learned skill driven by intuition. Your hiring process should have netted you a candidate with good problem solving skills and an aptitude for critical thinking and analysis. Both will serve a new collector well because skip tracing relies heavily on being able to sort through copious amounts of information (or disinformation) to determine what is useful and what might be a wild goose chase. Having a new collector sit with your best skip tracer will give them tips on where to look for customers, how to ask the right questions, and who to ask for information.