If you have ever talked to anyone involved in debt collections or accounts receivable, and love their job, you will notice two things:

1) You are looking at a unicorn, and;

2) They didn't go to school to become good at their profession.

It takes an extraordinary breed of person to enjoy calling people for money all day. These people are few and far between. And the ones who are actively engaged in this work never dreamed in a million years that they would be doing the job or finding enjoyment in doing so.

If you decide to get into sales, for example, there are thousands of books and courses about sales, sales management, compensation plans, and a myriad of other resources dedicated to training sales staff; but there is precious little or nothing for anyone who enjoys collections. Collectors learn by doing, and we make tons of mistakes along the way.

So today, I wanted to get a little vulnerable with you and share with you some of the biggest mistakes I have learned along the way,. The reason it's important to share these with you is so that a) you can get through these hurdles quicker than I did and b) these mistakes subsequently be the lessons that attributed to becoming a great collector- and I want that for you!

Mistake #1: I treated the debtor like a customer

I started in the collection industry when I had just turned 20 years old. Initially, I couldn't even believe that people didn't pay their bills. My limited work experience was in various retail roles, so my mentality was a high degree of customer service and that the customer is always right. My background training was incongruous to the job requirement as a successful collector.

I was utterly terrified that I had to call people for money. If the account holder said they couldn't pay, I would say, "okay, thank you, and have a nice day." Continuing that way of thinking was going to derail my career pretty quickly. It became clear that I had to learn fast, so I looked at my colleagues and watched the most successful collectors see what they did and tried to emulate them. I was fortunate to have some excellent mentors along the way, and I took from them what worked for my personality and style.

This is a huge mistake most newbie collectors are guilty of making. I made the mistake of treating the debtor like the customer. The creditor is the customer and I needed to be more authoritative with debtor contacts.

Mistake # 2: I underestimated my influence

Understand that you have significant negotiating power. Most consumers feel bad that they are unable to pay, and knowing how to use this dynamic correctly can make you very successful.

Mistake # 3: I left money on the table by waiting too long

You know when a customer is no longer a customer. If you work at a collection agency, the creditor has already made this decision for you, and they no longer wish to deal with the customers directly. However, if you work for the creditor, then this issue must be clear to you either via your credit policy or communications with management. The single biggest impediment to recovery is time. Creditors generally wait too long to take remedial steps, which severely impacts the chances for full recovery.

Mistake # 4: I took "no's" at face value

Any good salesperson or collector will tell you that the word "no" is simply a moment in time. If you learn the buying signals or paying signals that consumers exhibit, you will be ready to close the deal or get the account settled

Mistake # 5: I wasted energy and time on people who had no intention of honouring their commitments

Recognize it is a numbers game. Accept the simple fact that you will not sell every prospect, nor will you collect from every past-due customer. Maximum success is achieved by focussing on the smaller key performance indicators that you can control.

That's it. That's what it takes. I have the utmost respect for people that say right up front that this kind of work is not for them. Either you will love it, or you will hate it, but know this - there are many very nice people who collect a ton of money. They have ninja skills and use the customer's energy to their advantage. Believe it or not, but the most successful ones receive thank you cards from consumers and companies that have paid them.

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  1. Lynn Webster says:

    I love this Brad!!!

    If I may make a suggestion, it would be great to do this piece from an “in-house” collections perspective where some of what makes them successful is the polar opposite of what makes an “out of house” collections agent extremely successful! I’d love to see that 🙂 not sure if that is something you want in your wheel house though lol

    Take care and love to read your posts/blogs!

  2. Brad Lohner says:

    Hi, Lynn. Thanks for your comments. Our team loved your idea, so stay tuned!

  3. Lisa Jamieson says:

    Excellent article Brad and thanks for all the compliments. Being in credit collections for 25 years now, one thing I have learned is you must be creative, methodical and honest. Appreciate your customer being firm but fair. The experience comes when you know when to draw the line. Your right if at first you don’t succeed, try another way. No school teaches experience. Collection agencies can be your best tool when ultiized with timing.

    1. Danielle Dahl says:

      Lisa- Brad was travelling across the country and wanted me to reply with his regards. We completely agree! With your 25 years of experience, I can imagine how much wisdom and teaching you would have available. Thank you for sharing Lisa. -Danielle, PCM Media

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