Reputation can make or break a business, and reputation management plays out in numerous organizational settings — from product-centered controversies and leadership matters to workforce disputes and safety issues. Preserving a business’s reputation is a particularly fierce dynamic in accounts receivable management (ARM) activities, thanks to traditionally negative perceptions of collections agents as having strong-arm relationships with debtors and dialing-for-dollars mindsets. While those perceptions are mostly out of date, they can still complicate the business’s relationships with those who owe.
Customers are more likely to voice complaints than accolades, and it can take as many as 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved or negative experience.
ARM professionals face inherent challenges — many involving core elements of psychology and interpersonal communications — when interacting with borrowers. Agents’ jobs are complicated, for instance, by customers’ inherent value biases, which can make it difficult to convince someone to pay a bill for a product or service that he or she may have received long ago. It’s also challenging to pitch a resolution to a borrower in default when the benefits of paying the debt — such as better credit scores and lower interest rates on borrowing — may not have any perceived value until years in the future.
Expanded training in customer relationship management (CRM) techniques can help. In an industry historically driven by call volumes and talk times, integrating a greater focus on relationship building and problem-solving can drive improved customer impressions and outcomes. Agents are better equipped to forge positive relationships by understanding and engaging in trust-building conversations. And agents need that training because powerful forces on biochemical and psychosocial levels involving trust and comprehension are at work during personal interactions. ARM professionals often need to play the role of counselor or adviser, employing a respectful, resolution-minded demeanor, but it takes time to win over borrowers.
To earn that trust, collection agents must learn to discuss problems from a position of empathy and teamwork. Factors such as tone of voice and choice of words can have a big influence on customer reactions and attitudes. They can make the difference between a distressed borrower deciding to rework his monthly budget or tap savings funds to pay down a debt, and simply posting in anger to social media sites about having “been wronged.”
Borrowers rarely think of themselves as “customers,” let alone consider a successful resolution — paying back money — as a positive experience.
When it comes to sharing opinions, industry research shows customers are much more likely to voice complaints than accolades, and it can take as many as 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved or negative experience. People have plenty of forums in which to complain, and there’s no guarantee that what they post in anger will be accurate. Those hard CRM truths mean a company’s reputation can suffer when interactions go south. And the situation is even tougher for ARM professionals: In a delinquency, borrowers rarely think of themselves as “customers,” let alone consider a successful resolution — paying back money — as a positive experience.
Skilled collections agents understand this and have the patience and training to be reliable and results-oriented partners in stressful situations. Training is key — CRM and customer care practitioners can benefit from applying evidence-based strategies for engaging stakeholders and communicating through conflict.
For more information, download our free ebook Safeguarding Both Cash Flow and Reputation in Debt Collection.
— Gary Dorman, Director of Operations (@wrg_gdorman)