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Communicating With Empathy in Collections During & After COVID-19

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Facilitating professional development and training is a great way to invest in your agency’s greatest asset, your collectors. We spoke with Mary Shores, a second generation debt collection agency owner, who shared her call scripting methodology and ways for leaders to empathize with collectors to set them up for success during and after COVID-19.

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Communicating With Consumers During COVID-19 [2:55]

One thing is certain; nobody is immune to the widespread impacts of COVID-19. Economic shock is causing many, including those in the debt collection industry, to feel uncertain about their livelihoods. Clients are hitting pause and additional limits on the industry are being introduced.

It can all be very overwhelming, but see these challenges as an opportunity to empathize with consumers. Most likely, they feel just as uncertain as you.

How Collectors Can Communicate With Empathy [4:00]

Mary Shores shares her empathetic call scripting for collectors.

Step 1: Ask feeling questions (ie. “how are you feeling about your finances over the next few weeks?”)

Step 2: Take a pause & listen to the consumer’s response (ie. “i’m laid off from my job and they haven’t called me back yet” or “it’s a bit scary but my company has allowed me to work from home.”)

Step 3: Determine if the consumer’s response was uncertain or certain.

– For responses of uncertainty: reply with something along the lines of “I completely understand your situation. Many people are telling us the same thing, so you are not alone.”
– For responses of certainty: Reinforce their positive statement. Say something along the lines of “I’m so happy for you. You’re one of the lucky ones.”

How Leaders Can Communicate a Return to The Office [8:55]

For leaders, “it really starts with getting ahead of your employee’s needs,” says Mary. So the first step is to understand what your employees actually need to feel safe returning to the office.

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, Mary sent out a company-wide email that laid out her agency’s goals (safety, business continuity & avoiding layoffs.) Mary has found that the more she answers & gets ahead of questions up front, the smoother the transition.

Leaders must empathize with their collectors while communicating a return to the office. What does this look like? Mary gives the example of letting collectors know that you understand the pressure of perfection in the debt collection industry – there’s not a lot of room to recover from mistakes.

As a leader, you must be gentle with your collectors and have an open conversation about what they think could be improved. “If we knew better, we’d do better,” Mary explains.

How COVID-19 is Changing The Debt Collection Industry [13:05]

“How many of you out there really believe that life will ever go back to the way it was pre COVID-19?”

We are entering a period of reform and change in our world and within the debt collection space. To say the least, COVID-19 has shaken up the debt collection industry. Mary emphasizes though that we should not look at this as a bad thing. Now is the opportunity to “rebuild” for a bigger, better, stronger and more connected industry.

Going forward, the industry has the opportunity to serve as a more positive influence in communities. Right now, your website might say that your collectors are kind & compassionate, but what really goes through your head when you’re listening to their recorded calls? If it doesn’t align with what you proclaim, use this period of reform & meaningful change to do better. Be about what you say you’re about!

To start off, take a hard look at the terminology your team uses to communicate with consumers. Mary explains that it can be as simple as creating a T-Chart that allows you to separate the good from the bad. Shifting the way you and your team look at the industry can help create positive change!

In the past, the debt collection industry has been more resistant to change than other industries. Mary believes that the impacts of COVID-19 will allow for more innovation within the industry, and that’s a good thing! She also believes that going forward agencies will invest more time & training into essential soft skills for collectors, such as communication.

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