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Empathy:  Paving a New Road to Collector Understanding

  • Written by Harry Strausser lll

 
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              2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year that forever changed the way people across the globe view life, socialize with one another, travel and transact business.  What a difference a few months can make and what a resilient people we are.  We are not only sharing the unique dynamics of the coronavirus crisis within the US from coast to coast but throughout the entire world.  In many ways it has broken down walls of difference.  In some ways it will create new cultures that will dictate how we live, work and interact.

            For many years as a trainer I have spent much time in my programs talking about how critical it is for collectors to attempt to understand the consumers with whom they are communicating.  The one on one exchange between collector and consumer is absolute gold in the collection process and much like precious metals, more and more of a rarity.  If we are fortunate enough to actually have a conversation, we have to use every tool at our disposal to make a successful connection with the consumer. Empathy forges that pathway and builds a foundation upon which understanding is key.  Henry David Thoreau said when referring to empathy, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”  

            Empathy is defined as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.  Further definition includes what is known as Cognitive Empathy or, sometimes referred to as “perspective taking”.  It refers to, “our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.”  It is important to differentiate between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy becomes problematic for a collector in that they develop, “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”  Sympathy pulls at the heart strings where empathy says, “I’ve been there and I understand you”. 

            Our ability to communicate is directly proportional to our ability to collect.  When we develop an understanding of another person, we are much more able to create and express messaging that generates action in that person.  During these pandemic times, virtually every person on the planet is impacted in some fashion.  Domestically, we have all been subject to personal illness, illness of a loved one, problems accessing products and services, job furloughs, and resulting financial hardships.  Collectors are now in a position to directly understand the hardships of the consumer from whom they collect.

            Not only can we truly understand, but we now have an outstanding opportunity to enhance public relations between debt collectors and consumers. Many firms have drafted new messaging as they openly offer to assist consumers with their financial concerns over debt in collection.  Consumers are finding that collectors can serve as a resource for financial education and have programs and plans to help them through these trying times.  I have always stated that I believe the overwhelming majority of consumers desire to pay their debts.  Collection firms across the US have been sharing their amazement at the high level of activity from consumers during this time.  They continue to receive large volumes of inbound calls, thus creating the opportunity for meaningful, empathic conversations.

            A popular quote on empathy states, “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.”  Perhaps we will find as an industry the hidden value of these trying times of 2020. There will be a new found commitment to understanding one another and the collections calls of tomorrow will forever take on a new and positive tone.  We will see and recognize the value of the human spirit. We will listen more carefully to the messages that come our way. And, we will channel our feelings into productive calls, successful negotiations and the formation of meaningful relationships.

            We continually welcome thoughts and best practices from our readers. Feel free to send us your feedback for possible inclusion in a future column. 

Harry can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and at 570-336-7056.

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