Tips for Successful Debt Collection by Phone and Email
Some of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to collect on unpaid debt is communicating in an unprofessional, impolite, or potentially illegal manner. Being in debt and collecting debt can both be stressful situations and there are numerous laws around debt communications. Learning best practices for communicating with those who owe you money is essential to recovering that money.
Be polite and professional.
No gum chewing, eating, or web surfing while calling. Use please and thank you, and introduce yourself. One trick receptionists have used for years is to smile while on the phone. You’d be amazed at the difference it can make in your voice.
Call at the right time of day.
Some people work mornings, others don’t come into the office until the afternoon. By knowing when the debtor is available to talk on the phone, you can avoid playing phone tag. Simply asking the debtor (either in an early voicemail or when you speak to him or her on the phone for the first time or by email) what time they are generally available to speak can save a significant amount of your time.
Take notes or record conversations.
If you are going to record a conversation, you must get permission first. But taking notes can be equally effective. By keeping a log of any agreements or issues brought up by the debtor, you can avoid repeating or contradicting what you (or another collector) have already said. After the call, send an email summarizing the conversation and any commitments (such as when there will be a payment and how much or a follow up communication) so there are no disagreements later.
Be careful about leaving messages.
With today’s quickly-evolving laws governing debt collection, it is very important that debt collectors never disclose private information regarding the debt to anybody other than the debtor, especially when collecting on a personal (rather than business-to-business) debt. As a general rule when collecting from individuals, collectors should assume that any voicemail messages they leave will be heard by somebody other than the debtor, and as a result no information regarding the debt should be mentioned. If it is a business debt, full detail can be left on any business phone number and personal phone known to belong to a directly involved party.
Don’t blame or shame.
Having unpaid bills is stressful. It is usually not helpful to blame the debtor or imply that they have failed by not upholding their commitment to pay their bills. Doing so will only make them upset and less willing to pay. Speak calmly and find out why the debtor hasn’t paid their bills, and then try to work towards a solution to the problem. If they have a complaint about the product or service, find out why and try to resolve the complaint. If the customer simply doesn’t have the money at that time, ask them to prove this and have them suggest a solution. While it is important to convey to the debtor that the matter is important and needs to be resolved as soon as possible, forcing the debtor into a payment plan they know they will default on will likely cause the debtor to be less interested in working with you.
Although phone conversations are the preferred method for discussing unpaid debt, email also has an important role to play, especially when documents are being requested or sent, a paper trail is needed, or for quick follow ups and reminders.
If you can’t write, don’t.
Everybody knows their own skill set. If you are not a good writer, please do not write your own emails. Instead consider hiring an in-house or freelance copywriter to create a set of email templates for you that will help you communicate.
Be polite and professional.
Because tone of voice is so hard to determine in an email it’s especially important that you be polite and professional. Do not attempt to joke or be lighthearted about the situation. Keep your messages short and ensure they only emphasize the point you want. Shorter emails are more likely to be read in their entirety, and if you make the message you want to send to the recipient very clear they’ll be sure to get the point.
Being polite also includes responding to emails in a timely manner. If you want someone to respond to your emails, you must do the same for them.
Create a factual and short subject line.
Your recipient will be far more likely to open the email if they know what it’s about.
Don’t send the message to people who don’t need to see it.
Remember that any email communication can be used in a lawsuit if the debtor sues you for disclosing information to parties against regulation (especially in the case of consumer collections). Email communications are permanent, and the debtor will be able to find a copy of the message stored online with ease.
Communications are just one of the tricky elements that sometimes makes it easier to hire a professional collection agency. If you’re having trouble finding the right way to talk to debtors, please give us a call.
About The Author:
Dean Kaplan is Principal at The Kaplan Group. Dean's expertise is widely recognized in the debt collection industry. His advice has been published in a number of industry newsletters such as Credit Today and InsideARM and he is a frequent speaker at industry events.