"I am Gritkhor, third son of Tibeldar and in charge of the family finances. We have done business with other cave dwellers in our region through the trade of furs, seasonal vegetables and meats from successful hunting excursions. We are a hard-working family and provide much for others. A family in a nearby cave unit has failed to provide payment for the Tyrannosaurus hides we have tanned for them. They no longer appear at their cave entrance when I pound a stone on the adjoining rocks to summon them. I call loudly into their chambers only to hear silence. Today I take my small stone and slate tablet and leave them a message at the foot of their entrance, ‘Payment due for hides. Please pay immediately. Sincerely, Gritkhor.’ I then walk…”
I awoke suddenly from this crazy dream. I got my shower, got dressed and headed to my office at my agency in central Pennsylvania. Another day in the debt collection industry about to start. I suddenly realized the genesis of this dream. Our industry has been thrust back into the stone age by regulators with big clubs they swing aimlessly.
Since the old days of index cards and rotary phones, our world has exploded with communication technologies that can assist businesses and consumers in extraordinary ways. If someone faxes to our office it arrives via email as a PDF document. We have smart phones that run our lives and communicate by emails hundreds of times a day and text messages to save time, especially to our Millennial generation. Our culture is light-years ahead of where we were 50 years ago, but our industry is stuck in the tar pits of regulatory confusion.
Specifically, we have developed telephone technology that manages our calls and enables us to communicate efficiently with thousands of consumers daily…in theory. Our industry laments right-party contact ratios that are in the single digits. The TCPA prohibits our ability to call a consumer’s cell phone without their express permission (which they can now revoke at any time and in any manner). With this current culture many firms have turned their communication focus back to the issuance of letters in an attempt to get their message to the consumer. We may not use a chisel and stone but it feels that way sometimes.
Years ago most agencies scheduled a series of notices for each account booked into their system. Postage was cheap and phone contact was expensive and difficult. Imagine trying to speed dial on a rotary phone! As postage costs have soared we have reduced mailings often to just the validation notice with the occasional follow up letter based on the situation. In a world where consumers just don’t answer their phones, we turn back to the written message. Many firms I work with are testing new letter content and more attention getting presentment of the mailers. The tone of these mailers has transitioned from the demand notice to the let us help you letter. We are a softer, kinder industry in 2016.
If you can’t leverage your phone communication as you once did, consider reaching out to your letter vendors and explore new, creative communication approaches. Many firms are developing messages to consumers and then tracking the response rate of each new coded notice. Attempt to determine the type of message that is most motivating to the demographics of your consumer base. Perhaps alter your message based on the industry/product you are collecting.
It was another long day at the office. I’m finally home in my easy chair relaxing with my golden retrievers and getting a bit sleepy… “It was a successful day for Gritkhor and there was much rejoicing among his family. His last message via slate tablet to the neighboring customers did the trick. When they awoke they found a pile of stone tools and arrows at their cave entrance. There was also a unique product offering of a round stone with a hole in the middle through which one could insert a long branch and roll along the ground easily. On the side of this stone was etched the word ‘wheel.’ This family, called Guhdyeer, was so creative despite the fact they were slow repaying their debts. Imagine the uses for this new item! What in the world will they think of next?
We encourage our readers to submit a “best practice” idea for inclusion in this column. Until next time, I’m in a collection office near you!