Have you seen the commercials where a cell phone provider offers to buy out your contract, even going as far as cutting your bill in half with a sword? They make it sound like all you have to do is sign up with them and they’ll take care of the rest. In some cases the consumer finds out months later the new provider did not do everything they promised. In fact, if the consumer doesn’t comply within a certain amount of time they won’t even get the buyout money. Eventually the consumer receives a dunning letter and even collection calls for the unpaid balance or the contract buy out amount. That’s where we come in and try to assist the consumer in resolving their unpaid balance.
Often we have to overcome objections before we can even attempt to collect the debt. Whether the charges are for data, service, equipment or cancellation, the consumer was under the impression all is well and could be receiving collection calls for the very first time in their life. How the collector handles the call is crucial to what happens next. The call can result a few different ways including payment, dispute, fraud or even worse, a complaint. It’s important to make sure your agents are trained on how to properly handle the call if the consumer objects. If the consumer claims their current provider promised to buyout their contract I suggest asking the consumer if they received a gift card to cover the buyout amount. If they didn’t receive a gift card they may not have complied with the fine print of the agreement. If the consumer adamantly disputes then the collector should back off and offer to provide invoice copies. Once the consumer understands what the charges are for it makes our job as collectors easier. If they claim they were a victim of fraud the service provider should have a process to follow.
When collecting for a service provider it is imperative to protect their brand by treating the party on the other end of the phone with dignity and respect. The last thing you want to do is leave a bad taste in their mouth due to an unpleasant experience. Not only because they may never come back to the provider but also because anyone they speak to about their experience whether it be friend or family may think twice about using your client in the future. I’ve found it to be more difficult to train pre-CFPB collectors because of the old saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Ideally I look for collectors with less than five years experience. We take a customer service approach and focus on the fundamentals. Showing empathy, thanking the consumer and recapping the call are all good ways to provide the customer service approach.
From a strategy standpoint, you must be cautious with how you attempt to reach the consumer. The service number could have been ported over to the new carrier by the consumer or reassigned to a third party so manual dialing is crucial in order to remain complaint under the TCPA.
If it’s a commercial account I would start with accounts payable. Your approach must be professional and assertive but remember it’s not their debt. If you are unable to get anywhere with accounts payable check the agreement to see if there is a personal guarantor and attempt to reach them. If all else fails I attempt to reach the owner of the company. The owner may not be reachable at the office so you may have to skip trace in order to find their home or cell phone number. I use Accurint and search the businesses name then click on the “People at Work” feature. Once you make contact with the owner remember to take a soft approach. In most cases the owner of the company isn’t aware the debt is unpaid and more than likely isn’t used to receiving collection calls. The purpose of calling the owner is to notify them of the amount owed and get them to instruct their accounts payable department to pay the debt. Owners are used to giving orders not taking them so handle with care.
Sam Eidson is the Director of Compliance for Delta Outsource Group, Inc. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Missouri Collectors Association.