Let’s face it, the agents in our call centers across the country don’t usually walk in to training on their first day with the mindset that this job is going to be what they do the rest of their lives. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. Most collection agents starting off in this field, and many in the industry a long time, are embarrassed to even tell their friends and family that they are a bill collector. It’s not a glamorous job, but it certainly can be a rewarding one. My goal in this article is to show everyone why motivation is, in fact, the most important aspect of running your center and what you can do to develop the mindset among your staff that this can be their career.
There are a million ways to motivate that I can write a book on, but I’m going to focus on the three most important ways collectors are motivated, either positively or negatively, on a daily basis. First you have engagement, which is paramount in this business. You cannot motivate an employee who is not engaged with their team and their organization. Second, you have the mental aspect which is their knowledge of the job, learning to love what they do because they understand how important it is to consumers and the economy. Lastly, you have monetary and this is a given, but it’s not what you may think. Motivating a staff to achieve greatness simply with money alone is impossible and can even conjure negative chemistry amid the ranks. Remember, it’s the little things that count most and I will share what you can do to help this work to your advantage.
My first recommendation is to designate an employee engagement committee and ensure there is a point person at each location responsible for keeping their finger on the pulse of the people. This person is responsible for employee events, birthdays, anniversaries and being an open door for employees to talk to anytime and about anything. Employees who are recognized by their company, by default, become more involved and concerned about the companies well being.
Have monthly meetings with the entire organization. No matter how big or small, this can be done. In these meetings each month, give out various awards for production and compliance, show everyone where you stand on the scorecards for your clients, share with the group where the company came from, what you are doing now and where you are going. When you take time to explain and teach your people, not just about the industry, but about the very organization they work for, they can get a broader view of what their role encompasses and how important they really are to the company’s success.
The old cliché “praise in public, criticize in private” could not be more true in the collection business. Motivation through fear is what I call “caveman collections.” It’s old school, ineffective and actually makes your employees hate coming to work. I like to use the “snooze button” analogy. If your employees hit snooze on their alarm before coming to work, you’re doing something wrong. Collections is a tough enough job as it is and as we all bond together to change the image of our industry, it is important to realize, it starts with our agents. Their state of mind, attitude and mood are almost always reflected in their tonality on the phone. A happy employee is a productive employee. It is vital to support and motivate your people through an amazing culture and a positive work environment. When they are down, pick them up, when they are struggling, take time to listen to their calls and teach them what they are doing wrong. With everything agents need to know to do this job in this era of quality and compliance, it is motivating to the employee when they have knowledge and a positive leader backing them up.
Whether the agents like it or not, this is still a commission-oriented business. In an economic environment where unemployment is very low and people are paying more, collections is still a slim-margined industry. No matter how hard we try, we will forever face the battle of pay for production in a world where everyone wants a guarantee. This is the single most important reason why a motivated and engaged staff is vital to an agency’s success. When an employee truly cares about where they work and the people they work with, they don’t leave to go down the street for an extra buck. Solid pay with an excellent bonus structure is a good way to motivate, but in addition to that, employee events such as a night out bowling or an employee appreciation day at work is what the employees remember.
You must remember that it’s the little things that count and it’s the little things that are remembered. A simple smile, a handshake, a high five or a “good job” goes a very long way to your people when it’s genuine, consistent and coming from upper management. Our agents write our paychecks and our agents are a reflection of not only our organizations, but of our clients. High attrition is a killer in our business and people don’t leave an environment where they are treated right, compensated correctly and truly shown a path to a career.
In the end, you can have the newest and best technology, a beautiful call center and an amazing strategy, but without your people, you have nothing.