As a 30-year certified Instructor with ACA International, I have typically been surrounded by industry professionals that embrace education. Good companies know that an effectively trained staff member is a productive, compliant and happy one. A robust education program is directly tied to improved employee retention. An entry-level collector today may be your team lead, compliance officer or company trainer of tomorrow. There is yet another clear reason to promote education in your firm; the development of positive mindsets that promote positive press.
The only way to orchestrate and maintain positive press is by walking the walk and talking the talk. A veil of smoke and mirrors with testaments of “how professional we are” in the collateral material you provide for marketing and in RFP’s does not create an impenetrable curtain of protection. Some of the bad apples of the industry have professed their superior training, compliant approaches and culture of consumer centric values. The truth lies in the reality of the daily culture of your organization.
The first step in maintaining positive press is to stay away from getting negative press. Our front-line team members touch many thousands of consumers daily, weekly, monthly, annually. One of our highest risk areas of harming corporate reputation lies in the interactions held regularly by our collection professionals. And, professional is the key. Often, when a firm ends up in the news, it is a result of the communications held between phone representatives and consumers. The tone of calls, language used, non-verbal communication dynamics and lack of empathy can create a scenario that aggravates call recipients and leads to unwelcome commentaries and complaints about your firm.
With the direction of the industry’s compliance landscape and the new FDCPA rules addressing technology utilization, much emphasis will be placed on improving the communication dynamic. How will we communicate via text? Will we encounter more traction in the collection process by incorporating email messages? What will the collector talk off of 2025 sound like compared to that of 1990?
In the words of Yehuda Berg, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
The Perception of Collectors
Part of the challenge the ARM industry has experienced is the public perception of debt collectors. At one time collection cultures embraced approaches that were more like a club than carrot. Focus was on the ramifications of continued non-payment instead of today’s popular “let us help you find your way” type of consultative approach to human interactions. Consumers are increasingly averse to marketing firms using technologies to ring their cell phone as they robocall long lists of prospects. Incessant, repeated calls daily. Calls that dilute our attempts to realize success in having the consumer pick up the phone so we can engage in our collection magic.
As an industry, many firms are very involved in their communities and support various charities on a regular basis. News of this charitable involvement should become part of the corporate messaging. The ACA International’s Education Foundation offers the Loomer Mortenson Scholarship program annually and awards $50,000 in scholarships to individuals that work in the ARM industry as well as their children. You can support these efforts, for example, by taking part in the Collector’s Challenge in April of each year. If you do good things that help your community and industry on any level, that is the kind of positive press we need to promote. Keep your team inside on a professional platform and let the outside news outlets know about your outreach that helps everyone!
We continually welcome thoughts and best practices from our readers. Feel free to send us your feedback for possible inclusion in a future column. Until next time, I’m at my ACA Office waiting to hear from you!