Contact strategies — at least the most effective ones — are equal parts art and science, relying on data and experience to get in touch with individuals. Taking all the variables into consideration, from the size of the debt to how old it is, there is still an old-school gut instinct that many agencies rely on when building their communication strategies.
A panel of experts from some of the largest collection agencies across the country shared their best practices and what they take into consideration when reaching out to individuals either via the telephone, through collection letters, or using more modern-day technology like text messages and emails. Other communication tools, like voicemails, direct-to-voicemail technology, and cell phones were also discussed during the webinar, which was sponsored by VoApps. A copy of the webinar recording is available here.
Part of knowing when to try and make another contact is reading between the lines of whatever conversation is going on between the collector and the individual, said Greg Meyer, a collection manager at American Profit Recovery.
“They may tell you something just to get you off the phone,” Meyer said. “They may be building their own personal strategy for how to deal with the situation.”
It can be easy to build a strategy when an account is newly placed with an agency, but over the course of that account’s life within the walls of the agency, the strategy may need to be adjusted multiple times based on how the individual responds — or does not respond — to the agency’s overtures.
“Once there is an ongoing conversation, there is a lot of judgment about how we’re going to communicate going forward,” said W. Judd Peak, the Chief Compliance Officer at Frost-Arnett Company. “It’s easy to develop a mathematical strategy on a new placement. But after six months, you need to use your judgment to decide what to do next.”
Knowing when to try and reach out to an individual is important, Meyer said. Many teachers, for example, do not get paid during their summer vacations, so calling them right now might not be a good idea. But calling them in a month, when their paychecks have started flowing again, may yield a better result.
Many agencies are wrestling with whether to leave voicemail messages when trying to contact individuals. The panelists which are leaving voicemails are using what is known as the “Zortman” voicemail, which references a lawsuit, Zortman v. J.C. Christensen & Assocs., Inc. In that case, the message, which was deemed not to be a communication from a debt collector, is:
“We have an important message from [company’s name]. This is a call from a debt collector. Please call [company’s telephone number].”
What is important is testing whether the voicemails you are leaving are being returned, Peak said. And the only way to do that is with a specific callback number that is left in the voicemail message. When that number is dialed, the agency knows the call is being returned because of a voicemail that was left.
More agencies are leaving direct-to-voicemail messages which are dropped into an individuals voicemail box without placing a call. The technology is good for generating a lift in inbound calls to a collection agency, but the agency must make sure it is staffed properly prior to dropping the messages, said Alicia McKeighan, the chief compliance officer at Afni, Inc.
“You can drop too many voicemails and get overwhelmed,” McKeighan said.
With collection letters, Meyer said that American Profit Recovery has had some success including settlement offers in second collection letters, if the first letter did not generate a contact with an individual. The settlement offers are pre-approved by the client prior to being sent to the individual.
“If it’s been a year and we’re starting a new letter campaign, we are also sending them a settlement offer,” Meyer said.
Agencies should be relying on their letter vendors to help them stay on top of important updates, from court rulings to new state regulations, Peak said.
The current set of rules and regulations make it hard to be innovative, Peak admitted.
“It’s hard to be cutting edge in this industry,” he said. “If you’re at the forefront, you’ll just become a target.”