Structured yet fun collector training sessions can help boost comprehension and retention
Although training methods vary from business to business, keeping employees engaged in the process is important across the board.
Michelle Camp, general manager for Express Recovery Services in West Valley City, Utah, said one of her company’s major training goals is to help collectors earn ACA’s Professional Collection Specialist designation, which recognizes collectors who complete training on professional and ethical collection practices. To accomplish this, Express Recovery Services started holding training seminars a few times a year on Saturdays, so collectors could stay on the phones during the week.
“They get to dress casually and we buy them lunch as well as pay for their time,” Camp said. “It’s voluntary, so we were worried about lower attendance, but so far we’ve had 100 percent participation—and a lot of people repeat the training the following year.”
Clay Goodyear, vice president of collections for Williams & Fudge in Rock Hill, S.C., said his company’s collection training seminars are voluntary as well, unless the topic affects the entire industry, such as managing financial data or state and federal law updates.
“I’ve noticed a higher level of engagement when classes are voluntary,” Goodyear said. “It’s a sacrifice for commission employees to go to training because they’re losing money.”
For some agencies, adding games to training sessions can help keep employees interested. Camp said staff members often play a training game similar to Jeopardy, in which teams take turns answering the questions.
“They tend to retain the information better in teams,” she said. “The team that gets the most right wins a gift card.”
Holding training sessions on a regular basis helps keep information fresh in your employees’ minds. Sometimes Camp even gives employees a pop quiz a week after the training to ensure they were paying attention.
Goodyear said his organization follows an academic model for collector training, which works well with the company’s focus on student loan debt.
“We use a more formal training process, with a formal instructor that is much like higher education,” he said. “We use ACA’s PowerPoint presentations and ones that are customized to higher education paper.”
How an agency structures training sessions depends on the philosophy of the trainer and the organization.
“Many agencies run contests, but we don’t do that,” Goodyear said. “We’re looking for the types of employees who will fit into our culture and academic approach.”
Camp said her company’s philosophy has always been to keep the environment fun so employees want to come to work.
“But we also want to make sure they’re getting work done,” she said. “It’s all about making it a fun while keeping them motivated, since that’s what drives the business.”
Role-playing is another way to keep employees interested in training. Camp said Express Recovery Services recently held a training session in which employees drew numbers from a hat. Each number corresponded to an industry question that covered issues such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and office policy.
When acting out collection scenarios, experienced collectors usually act as the consumers and newer collectors act as collectors.
“Role-playing is still one of the top techniques for training,” Goodyear said. “We’ve had success with that in groups as large as five or as small as three.”
Keeping employees engaged in the training process can also help with employee retention, which is crucial in the collection industry.
“We have 40 collectors, and our average collector has been here five years,” Camp said. “Keeping a fun atmosphere makes it easier to learn versus reciting something out of a book.”
Goodyear said turnover is one of the biggest issues agencies face, but that effectively training your employees can help reduce turnover rates. His company uses a three-stage training process, starting with the eight steps of a collection call, moving on to negotiation and payment arrangements and ending with managing a portfolio of debt.
“Each level is a promotion, so by the time they get to the third level they’ve been saturated with lots of formal training and customized one-on-one training,” he said.
Taking the time to measure the effectiveness of your training can also determine how engaged your employees are in the process. One of the most important indicators to look at is turnover—the goal, of course, being low, single-digit turnover numbers.
“Keeping employees engaged goes back to a management model that starts with valuing your employees,” Goodyear said. “The more I support them, the more my attitude becomes about serving the staff versus supervisory, and then the staff ends up being more engaged and productive.”
Goodyear also recommended keeping micromanagement to a minimum. He tries to keep training formal while maintaining a lighthearted atmosphere where employees have the freedom to get their work done.
“Getting away from micromanaging is possible when you hire excellent people and they’re on the hook for their own income,” he said. “When people are making good money, it doesn’t take a lot of management.”