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Winning with Kindness

When I started in the collection industry in 1994 I had received my on the job training as a front line credit/collection clerk for a nationwide furniture company. As an impressionable 20 year old, I was all ears whenever I could over hear James Ryan,  who was the senior collector for Looks Furniture, on the phone with a customer. James never took a strong arm approach when dealing with his customers who had become overdue. Rather, he was calm and took the unique approach of trying to listen rather than talk over his customers. He used to tell me that no one ever wants to be in a situation where they can’t pay a bill, but “life happens” as he used to tell me and the fact that you are willing to listen and then work towards a resolution that you both could live with was the secret to his success. James had the lowest percentage of AR in the entire company so it was easy to see that what he was doing was working. It was not long until I started using the same approach and it worked for me too. As George Bernard Shaw once said:

“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Twenty two years later I still try and instill the same approach with every collector that works for my company. I take great pride in training the staff at SWR and knowing that “life happens” is the very first thing I talk about with each new hire. Simply put, your customer has already received goods or services from your company and failed to pay for them. My job is to sell them into paying and I can’t do that by screaming demands at the consumer. I have learned that we are not the only ones deploying this same approach. There are many other debt recovery companies who offer free services and even advice. As CBSNews reports here, a debt collection company in Tulsa owned by Bill Bartmann operates on the basic premise that people in debt — don’t have money. So why brow beat ’em? Bill thinks like I do. He says he does not hire debt collectors. Instead, he hires people with customer care experience. And rewards them — not for how much money they bring in — but for how many free services they provide. His goal, like ours, is to get debtors back on their feet — be it through government assistance, housing, even helping build resumes. If this doesn’t work, sure there are other tactics to collect debts, but like Bill, I have learned that successful companies like ours perform much better when they establish good relationships with stakeholders, and not just our shareholders.

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