When I saw the recent New York Times article “A Debt Collector’s Day,” I was obviously intrigued to read it. Having worked nearly 4,000 days as a debt collector, I was looking forward to reading an article that actually depicted what we do for a living so readers would get a glimpse at what a debt collector really does. I read the article and a sampling of the author’s upcoming book on debt collectors, and it surely makes for an interesting story.
While the narrative is engaging, it represents only a small sampling of the debt collection industry from many years ago. While many would like to believe debt collectors are criminals, thugs and drug addicts, the majority of the 369,000 employees of the debt collection industry are in fact our neighbors and friends, grandparents and single parents, youth sports coaches and PTO volunteers. So upon finishing the article the question remained unanswered: What is a debt collector’s day like? I thought I’d try to shed a little more light on that.
A debt collector’s day starts off just like an average working American’s day: with a hot cup of coffee and maybe a little extra sugar. In most collection agencies, debt collectors kick off each day gathering with their managers for a quick meeting to generally update collectors on the current happenings, communicate the strategies and goals for the day, and end with a positive or motivational message to get the day off to a good start. Once the collectors get to their workstations they will log into their collection system and get to work. They’ll go over their individual work strategy for the current day, which includes reviewing consumer accounts they need to follow up on from previous conversations and identifying accounts to focus on for the rest of the day.
Planning the Day
A debt collector’s day is ultimately dictated by the strategy that is put in place by management. Debt collectors spend their day making outbound telephone calls, taking inbound telephone calls, and searching for updated information on consumers (which is known as “skip tracing”). Skip tracing is used to locate phone numbers and addresses for consumers when accounts are received without any good contact information. Debt collectors generally have access to several different resources that contain updated contact information on consumers normally compiled by credit reporting agencies and directory assistance databases. They will then use basic demographic information on the consumer from the account they are working to find updated contact information in order to reach the consumer and resolve the debt.
When making telephone calls, debt collectors have the odds stacked against them. Yet they find ways to continually help consumers resolve delinquent accounts. Most calls debt collectors make are to consumers who are not expecting their call. Once a consumer realizes a debt collector is on the other end of the line, that’s the last person the consumer wants to talk to. But by utilizing their extensive training and learned techniques, collectors work with the consumer to resolve their account.
Based on my experience, on average debt collectors are able to work out repayment of a debt with one out of every four consumers they speak with. For those productive collection calls there are always two factors in resolving the debt: the consumer’s willingness and ability to pay. Once the debt collector makes contact with a consumer it is important the consumer’s willingness to pay the debt is first established. Once that happens, the debt collector then works with the consumer to determine the consumer’s ability to pay through the different repayment options offered.
A debt collector’s composure is tried at least a couple times a day when dealing with an upset consumer. While most of the stories regarding harassing debt collection behavior are limited to debt collectors, it is not uncommon during the course of a normal day for debt collectors to be yelled at, cursed at and threatened by consumers through no fault of their own. However, debt collectors understand the frustration consumers face and know it is not directed at them personally, but at the situation.
Over the years, more emphasis has been placed on training debt collectors on conflict resolution. Training in this area is geared toward properly dealing with upset or irate consumers and focuses on the behavior of de-escalation. The goal for the debt collector in these circumstances is to identify through questions for understanding why the consumer is upset or irate and then specifically address their concern in a professional and respectful manner. On the flipside, consumers who feel upset when dealing with a specific debt collector should respectfully speak to that debt collector’s manager as most have been trained when a consumer requests to speak to a manager to do so without reservation.
When a Debt Collector’s Phone Rings
Throughout the day, debt collectors also answer many inbound calls as well. These calls come from what are called right parties, third parties and wrong parties. Right parties refer to the consumer of record (aka the person the debt collector has been trying to reach). Right parties or consumers call in for a variety of reasons such as to pay their debt, request more information about their debt, or maybe inform the debt collector to stop calling them. Third parties are those individuals who know or have a relationship with the consumer. Generally, they call in to provide updated information about the consumer or to tell the collector to stop calling them. Wrong parties are just that, the wrong person. As often as phone numbers change, it is very common for a debt collector to be calling a wrong phone number that used to be the right phone number for the consumer.
Regardless of how the media and the public portray our profession, as debt collectors we understand our roles are vital to the health of our credit-based economy. Debt collectors remain committed to turning difficult circumstances into positive experiences and do so millions of times each year.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.
More on Managing Debt:
- The Credit.com Debt Management Learning Center
- How to Pay Off Credit Card Debt
- The Best Way to Loan Money to Friends & Family
Image: Keith Brofsky