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The Secret to Excelling in Profit AND Performance

  • Written by Gordon C. Beck III

beck gordon2To each their own. That’s what I keep telling myself when discussing with my competitors what their strategy is to run and operate a successful collection agency. Everyone’s outlook is different, but the same. Sure, everyone wants to be a top agency, that’s what everyone is supposed to say. But behind closed doors it’s a much different conversation. Immediate profit is King, increasing the margins and chasing that evaluation multiplier reigns supreme, understandably so.

I once had a competing agency owner say to me “Gordon, when are you going to realize that being in third place is the real winner?” He went on to explain that no one in the middle of the pack has ever gotten fired for performance, their volumes are generally not tampered with, they fly under the radar and then walk away with more net profit than those at the top of the card. The question I always had in response was, is that really the way to build a successful agency? I refused to believe that being average was the best way to be; it bothered me to the core and as simple as it was to comprehend, I just didn’t want to understand it. Everyone likes to win, right?

In my mind, it was number one or bust and I would do anything to get there, legally, morally and ethically. I felt that being at the top was the only way to secure the most volume and earn potential bonuses while at the same time building partnerships where the organizations we work for know that they can always count on us so when special projects or openings in other tiers became available, we were the ones being called upon. I felt the company was building lifelong partnerships and if the investment was greater to do that, then so be it.

I have discussed this with many professionals in the ARM industry and there are vastly different opinions on the matter. Do you make less? Be #1, build your volume and strengthen your partnerships. Or do you make just enough investment to be average, stay under the radar and quietly count your stacks of cash?

The real question is, how do you accomplish both? Being a top performer while making the most money is probably the hardest objective to accomplish in this business, but it can be done. The key is what I call Productive Efficiencies. The first thing I look at is the obvious: technology. Is the investment in technology actually making you money or just protecting the money you have already made? For example, we all need speech analytics, especially for compliance (thus, protecting money). But how many are utilizing it as a direct way to train agents and make them better? This is merely an example; there are hundreds of them. The point is, are we taking our technology and using it to make money, make our performance improve or is it a way to make life easier for the back office and simply satisfy the compliance officer?

Another example: omni-channel communications. It’s a pretty word combination, one that is thrown around a lot these days. But is it utilized as a convenience for the consumers to choose how to communicate with your agency or is it engineered to target the best audience at the best time and in the best way?

Whether it is sending letters, doing text messaging campaigns, mining data through recordings or placing agents with the appropriate supervisors, there are hundreds of things we do in operations that can have a direct impact on cash flow and profitability if we make it a habit to collaborate internally on how each thing can be molded and strategized with the initiative of bringing maximum returns as it relates to those actions.

This is just the half of it. The most important action that can transmit to performance and profit is maximizing the productivity at an agent level. It may take all of the strategic initiatives discussed in this column, combined, to aid in this accomplishment. But let’s face it, if you want to make a healthy profit and you want to be #1 at the same time, it takes the agents performing at a very high level, collectively, to achieve this goal. Once you have given them the tools to succeed, i.e. strategically ensuring through technology and analytics that the right accounts and right calls are going to the right agents at the right times, you must focus your efforts on the effectiveness of the agent’s communications (talk-off) with the consumer.

The objective: an office full of top agents collecting at high level, while setting standards that are realized through a positive atmosphere, a motivating culture and a career-oriented mind set. Thirty great agents can out collect 100 average ones. Utilizing speech analytics tools, emotional analytics and agent-specific dialing strategies that target the rep’s strengths are critical. Once you show an agent a $1,000 bonus check, they will never go back. They will strive for more. If you are able to duplicate this throughout your call center floor you will always compete for the top spot and you will do so with a handsome EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization).

I know, easier said than done, but it can be done.


Gordon Beck is the President and COO of Valor Intelligent Processing, a new organization in the ARM Industry specializing in BPO and 3rd Party Collections. Gordon has 20 years of experience with expertise in the recovery of Wireless, Landline, Cable, Satellite, Internet, VOIP and Financial Institutions. Gordon is known as a motivator, educator and great public speaker in the industry; participating in panels, debates and several individual speeches at industry related events as well as contributing articles and content to several call center publications.

The Beginning of Collections’ Era of Innovation

  • Written by Gordon C. Beck III

beck gordon2Let’s face it, innovation takes guts. How many countless articles have we seen about the expenses we face, the margins that suffer, the hand we have been dealt. Sometimes I want to reach out and say, “enough!” We have faced era after era of “the world is against us:” the TCPA era, the CFPB era that then led to the compliance era, the client “cut backs” era, and I’m sure we can think of a few more. It’s over now.

Welcome to the era of innovation and technology. Welcome to the era of opportunity. Welcome to the era of “it’s about time!”

In the aftermath of multiple back-to-back periods of time that steadily chipped away at what once was an overwhelmingly profitable industry, what we have left standing are battle-tested, tried and true, professional, undaunted ARM firms that are excited, ready and hungry to see the reward for standing tall and surviving a period that saw many agencies close, move over to the world of BPO or simply sell and get out.

No great reward comes easy, that is an understatement for many of you reading this column today, but please consider this:

We have come out of this stronger than ever. We have a clear-cut path to compliance, the appropriate technology to protect us from dubious laws never meant for our industry, the staff and processes to protect us from litigious and opportunistic lawyers and the knowledge of how to operate in such a way that protects us from everything else. It’s time to move on to a time that shines so brightly on our future that it hurts my eyes. It’s time to innovate.

Even Rethinking Letters

Innovation cannot be looked at as only technology or new products, innovation is doing what no one else has done before. It’s making decisions and taking chances and not being afraid of what people will think or how we will be attacked. We have learned enough about what we can do and what we can’t and now is the time to take advantage of that.

For example, when was the last time anyone took a long look at their letter deck and the wording in those letters? Has anyone tried anything different? Has anyone said, “maybe I will put a statement in my letters that consumers aren’t used to hearing, a statement that will open their minds to who we are and encourage them to reach out and contact my agency?” How about an opening line such as, “We understand situations occur that are not always in our control, which is why we are reaching out to you today in an attempt to help you in a time of need,” should that be the case. Pretty interesting thought, right? Is it legal? Can someone sue us for that? I’m sure they will try. But at the end of the day, out of the 100,000 letters you sent that week, how many people will pick up the phone and reach out simply because they don’t feel ashamed or threatened by a run-of-the-mill collection letter? 10,000 more? 5,000 more? How do we know if we don’t try?

Obviously, I am not recommending you do exactly this, but it’s a point. We are in a time when we can try something different, something exciting, something that will recover more dollars and potentially reduce expense. We run compliant organizations that should be proud of what we do, but yet we are all too often cornered into the norm out of fear while every other industry out there can try new and exciting things to get ahead and remain relevant and competitive.

Why can’t we start doing that? The answer is, we can.

Omni-Channel: The Future of Business

I believe it is time for us to start doing video chat, having apps that make things easy for the consumer. Creating channels in the credit reporting cycle that can give opportunity to those that need it and promote positive transactions, not negative reputations.

Omni-Channel solutions are the future of our business. We are working with many different generations, but only catering to one. How can we change that if we don’t innovate?

In my opinion, we should be marketing our organizations no differently than Downy markets fabric softener; not just to potential clients, but to those that we help every day get out of debt while providing them a world-class experience.

If we open our minds to the potential we possess, we can change this industry forever. If we are willing do things never done, take risks and utilize the great technologies at our disposal we can create a world of consumer finance where people aren’t afraid to pick up their phones, answer an email, reply to a text or go on an app as it pertains to their personal accounts, not just current, but also in collections.

Think about the possibilities, if the agencies were looked at no differently than the creditors themselves and people had the confidence and the capability that they could communicate, both verbal and transactional, as they do with their own mortgage company. Innovation starts with a single thought but has to end with action. If there was ever a time to act, that time is now because we didn’t just weather the storm, we learned how to dance in the rain.


Gordon Beck is the President and COO of Valor Intelligent Processing, a new organization in the ARM Industry specializing in BPO and 3rd Party Collections. Gordon has 20 years of experience with expertise in the recovery of Wireless, Landline, Cable, Satellite, Internet, VOIP and Financial Institutions. Gordon is known as a motivator, educator and great public speaker in the industry; participating in panels, debates and several individual speeches at industry related events as well as contributing articles and content to several call center publications.

The 3 Keys to Motivating Employees

  • Written by Gordon C. Beck III

beck gordon2Let’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.

Engagement

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.

Mental

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.

Monetary

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.

Staying Ahead of Change and Technology

  • Written by Gordon C. Beck III

beck gordon2I remember the date like it was yesterday, June 1, 1998. I was 19 years old and on my first day at my new job. There was no training, only “side by sides” and I remember being anxious to get in my cubicle and make my first call. My manager approached me with a black plastic 6-by- 9 Rolodex and as he handed me the box he looked me in the eye and said, “Your future is now.”

That was 20 years ago. I say that as if it was forever ago, but let’s face it, 20 years is nothing in this business. Look how far the industry has come. Look how complicated it is to get and stay licensed, compliant, efficient and competitive. Over the past two decades our industry was unintentionally molded by the agencies and the vendors that dared to brave the future of technology and the bill that followed.

The path was laid by cutting edge software companies that dared to look an agency owner in the eyes and somehow convince him/her that moving from that Rolodex box or that black and white DOS system and paying $500 or more for every single collector in a seat, was going to give that agency a huge competitive advantage.

This path was advanced by dialer companies, blind to the TCPA, that gave agencies a chance to maximize contacts without hiring themselves out of business and those same dialing companies years later that advanced their product to keep us all compliant with the laws of today. I remember specifically sitting in on client one-on-one monthly calls for performance and it was very clear what agencies were taking the chance on technology and which ones were not.

Although I stand firm by my belief that the foundation of this industry is and always will be the people, it is very obvious that in order to stay ahead of the curve and in order to create maximum value for your agencies, you must be digitized, tech enabled, cutting edge and unafraid. You must be willing to take risks that others do not and do so with an open mind while not stressing about an open wallet. It’s an investment, and with every investment comes risk. However, in those risks there is so much more to gain than there is to be lost.

Many ask me what I do to ensure technology does not pass me by and the answer is simple. Stay engaged. First and foremost, trust your industry publications and sign up to receive the daily newsletters and informational emails from sites InsideARM.com, AccountsRecovery.net, ReceivablesAdvisor. com and many more. Go to every conference you can and get involved. Go to the booths, ask questions and learn about what this industry has to offer. Last but not least, engage your competition. This industry is a tight knit group and almost everyone is willing to help and share what they have learned that is new or right around the corner. But be sure to reciprocate and share what you know as well so we can all get better and be prepared.

Look out there at the technology we have at our fingertips: AI can reduce talk times for agencies handling non-monetary instances such as bankruptcy, fraud and deceased accounts while opening their agents to talk money all day, every day. Emotional analytics that can literally expose the tonality utilized by agents on the phones with their client’s customers and ensure that they are positive, friendly, happy and helpful at all times.

With the announcement the CFPB Director Kraninger made regarding the rulemaking and the willingness of the government to allow agencies to utilize modern communication methods, the big question is who is going to be the pioneer of text messaging, video chat, chat bots and dialer enhancements?

I can tell you, unequivocally, that if you look back on those that made decisions based on advancing technology in their respective agencies, you will be hard pressed to find anyone that regrets it. This is a day and age in our industry where we need all hands-on deck, working together and helping one another advance the technology at our disposal and working as one to make it more affordable, efficient and beneficial. As I mentioned before, get involved! The programs, partnerships, events and groups are endless. While they have a cost associated with it, affording to get involved is an easy choice when you realize that none of us can afford not to stay ahead of the technological curve. It is bigger than any one agency; it is about an embattled industry that is making unbelievable strides in our stereotype and our scrutiny and is now at a precipice of available technology that can allow us the time and the means to focus on the future and to put our industry a step ahead and a head above.

There are very few industries that have gone through what we have, and it has made us stronger than ever. We are equipped to take on the future, but unlike compliance, technology is fun. It is not a forced-investment, it drives the money and the results that our clients are looking for while opening the door for margins we have not seen in 20 years, when those Rolodexes were basically free.

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.


Gordon Beck is the President and COO of Valor Intelligent Processing, a new organization in the ARM Industry specializing in BPO and 3rd Party Collections. Gordon has 20 years of experience with expertise in the recovery of Wireless, Landline, Cable, Satellite, Internet, VOIP and Financial Institutions. Gordon is known as a motivator, educator and great public speaker in the industry; participating in panels, debates and several individual speeches at industry related events as well as contributing articles and content to several call center publications.

5 Phases to Get the Most Out of Your Training Programs

  • Written by Sam Eidson

eidson samThroughout my career I’ve either read or heard that companies are only as good as their employees. I’ve found this to be a true statement and that’s why we feel it’s extremely important to train and develop our most valuable resource. Those who value employee development will continue to grow while those who don’t tend to remain stagnant. Our new hire training program consists of five phases including:

1. Introduction to our company including management team, employee handbook and code of conduct.

2. Compliance with state and federal laws including internal policies and procedures. Our collectors must pass with a minimum score of 90% on our debt collection rules and regulations tests before they can even make a call.

3. System training including telephony, collection software and file mechanics.

4. Talk off training including required disclosures, call progression and collection techniques. During this session we like to perform role-playing scenarios to help the collector overcome common objections.

5. Client specific training and special account handling.

A Valuable Ongoing Training Practice

Training isn’t a one and done program for our collectors. We feel like ongoing training for collectors with all ranges of experience is important to their development. Our industry is ever changing so there is always new material to cover. Often times those with experience have some bad habits or try to take shortcuts that end up costing them or us additional revenue. Employees need development not only to make them better at what they do but also to feel valued by their employer. Knowing there are multiple learning styles we try to accommodate each individual by using a different approach. One of our most valuable training practices is group round table call calibrations. We choose a few veteran collectors and a few rookie collectors and listen to a call from each. Once the call has ended each collector gets to speak on what they liked and what they may have done differently. The last collector to speak is the one whose call we just heard. Then the training manager adds their comments and suggestions. When we first started this practice I’d hear collectors moan and groan on their way to the training room. By the time the session was over each and every one of them came out of the training with a positive upbeat attitude. Some even asking when we were going to do it again.

The One-On-One Session

Other forms of training include side-by-side sessions where a manager sits with the collector and evaluates their file maintenance and talk off. We also have one-on-one call listening sessions where we listen to a right-party contact and allow the collector to evaluate how they performed. Having the collector evaluate the call allows the manager to have a better understanding of the collector’s job knowledge. Sometimes it takes listening to yourself on the phone to realize when you’re leaving money on the table or whether you could’ve handled the call more efficiently. A few of the things we evaluate during the call include tone of voice, call progression, fact-finding questions, psychological pause and urgency. Every so often we add pop quizzes to our intranet and offer a prize for those who score 100%. Once we identify each collector’s strengths and weaknesses we cater our strategy to their strengths. All collectors are not created equally so it’s our job to place them in the best position for their success. Some agents are better suited for a dialer while others are more effective skip tracing and manual dialing. We have a nice blend of post date collectors versus our liquidators and need a mixture of both in order to continue our success.


Sam Eidson is the Director of Operations at Delta Outsource Group. He is also a member of the board of directors for the Missouri Collectors Association.