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Do your Collections Agents have good Communication Skills?

In tough economic times, companies are faced with increasing numbers of debtors and unpaid accounts. If you have customer service, accounts or call centre staff, chances are some of them are expected to do collections as part of their job. Most people find debt collecting an unpleasant task – fraught with conflict and discomfort when customers get angry or give hard-luck stories. How do you ensure your debtors staff use the most persuasive communication skills to get customers to pay unpaid bills, without destroying the customer relationships you have worked so hard to build?

1. Preparation and planning is paramount
No-one will take time to listen to a debt collector who fumbles or is not prepared with the right information about the customer’s account. Make sure collections staff have access to all the necessary account balances and payment records before the call is made, as well as being equipped with answers to typical excuses customers make. So for instance if a customer responds with “I posted a cheque yesterday”, the collection agent would ask for details of the cheque and mailing details, or if a customer says “I’m having cash flow problems right now”, the collector might respond with “I understand that times are hard; would you like to make a minimum payment in the meantime or shall we set up a payment plan?”

2. Be careful of scripts
Many call centres rely on scripts to guide staff and keep communication skills professional, but remember that scripts give guidelines and not answers to all communication scenarios. Staff who deal with customers need to above all develop questioning and reasoning skills, because the customers they communicate with are all unique individuals who make diverse – and sometimes ingenious – statements to try to control calls. Invest time and money in training workshops where many different scenarios are played out and staff practise asking the right questions that will give them time to “think on their feet” and guide conversations to the solutions they need.

3. Hammer home professional communication skills
Some debt collection staff get irritable when faced with customers who haven’t paid their debts, and these attitudes often result in aggressive telephone manners. Few debts are worth losing your customers over – especially when considering the power of word-of-mouth advertising – or bad publicity.

4. Never forget the power of vocal tone and quality
If your customers are asked for payments by a timid mouse with a sing-song voice, or a monotone drone who sounds bored after the 20th call of the day, the chances of a persuasive negotiation are virtually zero! Many debt collection agents have not developed the business confidence or communication skills to know how to reflect an assertive, positive, clear and professional tone in their voices. If they’re speaking in a language that is not their home one, it’s even more difficult to be persuasive. Investing in training that includes vocal coaching is critical, as the voice carries more than 58% of the impact in a telephone call.

5. Work to keep motivation levels up
It can be soul-destroying to spend all day calling up people who avoid you or despise you. Call centre or admin managers need to continually find ways to keep staff positive and motivated. Building up confidence of staff (rather than knocking it down with critical assessment processes), humour, team-building moments and good leadership skills all play a vital part in keeping staff happy. And happy staff are productive – and communicate well.

Getting customers is difficult – keeping them is harder. Don’t let your debtors or collections staff undo your precious marketing efforts while trying to keep your business financially sound. Make sure they have good communication and negotiation skills and continual training to keep these skills sharp.