Conversations between collectors and consumers are like snowflakes, in that each of them are unique and one-of-a-kind in their own way. Consumers can be hostile, skittish, uncertain, embarrassed, aggressive, confused, or some combination of any or all of those emotions. Making any of those types of consumers feel comfortable is no small feat. And it’s usually the collectors who do less talking and more listening that are able to bridge those gaps, establish connections with consumers, and get them to pay their debts. A panel of training experts recently talked about the skills needed for collectors to establish connections with consumers during a webinar that was sponsored by Peak Revenue Learning.
The key to establishing connections is more about listening than it is about talking. Each of the panelists talked about the importance of engaging active listening skills during the discussion, and how those skills can help consumers feel heard and understood, which makes them feel more comfortable and likely to make a payment.
“If the if the customer knows that they’ve been heard and that you understand their situation, it really helps to build that relationship with them and it builds that trust factor,” said Rich Cichon, the Director of Corporate Education and Development at MRS BPO. That also means that collectors have to avoid “overtalking,” as Cichon put it, to give consumers a chance to “finish the story they want to tell us.”
Training collectors to be active listeners should be an important component of an agency’s development program, the panelists said. Mindy Chumbley, the co-owner of Solverity, a collection agency in Washington, puts clues or hidden triggers into calls that are used for training purposes, and it’s the collectors’ job to identify those clues. Someimes, Chumbley said, it’s more effective to catch someone being wrong — not picking up on the clue, for example — to train them to develop their active listening skills.
Other techniques, like matching and mirroring, can be effective tools to help collectors connect with consumers, as well. These skills, which are different than mimicking, and involve trying to match the speaking tones and patterns of the person on the other end of the phone, are more difficult to do in phone conversations — you can’t match someone’s body english, for example — but can help consumers feel more comfortable, said Kristen Rowles, the director of organizational development for CBE Companies.
Small talk is often attempted to help establish a connection, but asking someone about the weather or how he or she is doing are not going to cut it, Rowles said.
“Asking questions doesn’t build rapport,” Rowles said. “They have to be applicable to the conversation.”
Knowing whether a connection has been made is easy, Chumbley said. If the consumer on the other end of the phone is sharing any information with you at all, then they are beginning to trust you.
“The ultimate information is their bank account information or a debit card number — that’s the ultimate trust of information,” Chumbley said. “But if you think about it, we hear all day long, ‘Be careful who you talk to’ and there’s all these scammers, so anyone willing to trust me with their phone number or trust me with their place of employment or trust me with a payment — we obviously have a connection because we’ve gone from in their mind being a scam to being credible.”