I have the distinct privilege and honor of traveling this wonderful country and working with a great many BHPH dealers. I've noticed that they all seem to have one thing in common: They all struggle with effective collections calls. Most have a very good collections team that is staffed with good people, but for some reason, once they get a customer on the phone, they struggle. The main reason is usually lack of training. They either don’t have the time, or simply don’t take the time to work with their staff on collection call basics.
1. The Greeting
I’m old fashioned. I still believe the best way to start a call is, “Good morning/afternoon/evening, thank you for calling (company name).” Starting a collections call with the word “good” helps lower defenses. It helps assure the customer it was a good idea to have called you. They could have called any one of the creditors that has already called them, but they chose to call you, so take a quick second and thank them for choosing you.
2. Identify the Customer
The biggest mistake made here is simply asking, “Is (customer’s first name) there?” Nine times out of 10 the answer is, “No.” OK, maybe 10 times out of 10. From now on, try to assume it’s them based on the gender of their name. In other words, if you are calling a female customer and a female answers, simply say, “Hey (customer’s first name), how are you today?” You have a 50-50 shot of being right.
Now, if they say that they are not the person you are asking for, or if they are of the opposite gender, simply ask, “May I please speak with (customer’s first name)?” Too many times I hear collection teams asking if someone is "there," if they are "in," or if they are "available." It is more effective to assume they are all of those because the number you are calling is the best number the customer gave you to reach them.
3. Identify Yourself
Tell them who you are and who you’re with. There is no big secret here. They have caller ID. Even if you are using a blocked call line, they know it is more than likely a bill collector of some sort.
4. The Pause
As soon as you tell the customer who you are and who you are with, let there be a moment of silence. They want to get you off the phone as quickly as possible so they will start rambling away. I say let them. Let them get it all out. All the while you should be taking notes. I would rather have one 20-minute phone call with a customer to figure out what is really going on than five shorter calls over a week to end up with the same information.
5. Requesting Payment in Full Today
Even though they have given reasons why they can’t pay, you still need to bring them back to reality with the business at hand. Show a little empathy with, “I’m sorry to hear that,” then it’s time to set your expectations. Say, “How are you going to make your payment of $___ today?” This tells them that you are expecting payment in full and you expect it today. Too many times I hear, “Can you make your payment today?” or even worse, “How much can you pay today?” No need to let them off the hook right away.
6. Verify Information
At this point, you have told them what you expect and they have told you what they can or cannot do. Before you move forward with arrangements, make sure you verify some information regarding their account. Address, phone numbers, and place of employment would be the most common, but don’t be afraid to verify reference information, especially if you have had difficulty reaching them or leaving messages with them. A simple statement like, “I’d be happy to see what we can do to help you, but first I need to update some information on your account.” You are telling them you’re willing to help them, but first, they need to give you some updated information.
7. The Solution
I could (and probably will) do an entire article on how to set more effective arrangements. The only thing I would recommend here is making sure that the solution is in the best interest of the company and the customer. It really needs to make sense for both parties to be effective.
8. Close the Call
Now I’m asking you to do something that might be difficult. I want you to thank the customer for not only taking time to talk with you about their account, but also thank them for their business. As I mentioned earlier, they could have ignored your phone call, never called you back, or called another creditor—but they didn’t. They called you, or answered your call, so show them a little gratitude. Even if they are the biggest pain in the you-know-what, I assure you, it will go a long way. And I promise it will make it a little easier to converse with them in the future.
9. Document Everything
If you document everything from your call, everyone in your organization knows what you know. That way, if you’re not there one day, your fellow employees have all the information necessary to take care of your customers.
Practice these nine steps during every collections call, whether it is incoming or outgoing, and I assure you’ll not only collect more money, but will have an easier time doing so.