Bilingual employees can help third-party collection agencies reach more clients and consumers
At a time when consumers often face the difficult task of choosing which bills to pay, finding new ways to reach out to consumers has never been more important. In some regions, hiring bilingual collectors can be the edge third-party collection agencies need to succeed in today’s marketplace.
With the growing number of Spanish-speaking citizens in the United States, it has become increasingly common for agencies to hire bilingual collectors and collection managers.
“Our agency is in Colorado, which has a very high percentage of Spanish consumers, around 19.1 percent,” said Terri Boettcher, vice president of BC Services in Longmont, Colo. “So geographically it’s essential that we hire bilingual collectors.”
Boettcher’s agency employs 10 fulltime collectors who are fluent in English and Spanish, as well as one bilingual supervisor, who is responsible for monitoring the collectors’ calls.
Bilingual collectors at BC Services are required to complete the same training as other collectors but have access to additional resources, such as Spanish dictionaries, translated collection notices and a Spanish Mini- Miranda. Collectors also receive translated talk-offs that serve as examples of good phone conversations.
Debra Ciskey, director of compliance at Afni in Bloomington, Ill., said her company only trains its collectors in English, so bilingual collectors are expected to be fluent in both their first and second languages. Most agencies consider being multilingual a skill that warrants extra pay.
“Our bilingual employees receive a pay differential of $1 per hour on their base pay,” Ciskey said.
New hires at a collection agency often don’t have any collection experience, which tends to be the case for bilingual employees, too. However, Ciskey said this is not an issue at Afni because they are used to providing on-the-job training for individuals who are new to the industry.
Although employing bilingual collectors comes with many benefits, it can also pose a number of challenges. Boettcher said testing can be tricky because the exams are usually written in English. Sometimes it helps to verbally translate the training test questions or quizzes to help the bilingual collector.
Once an agency decides to branch out by hiring multilingual collectors, the next step is finding individuals with these skills.
“We are lucky to be located in a college town,” said Ciskey. “Students who have lived in bilingual households make good employees.”
Ciskey noted that one of the best ways to find bilingual employees is through referrals from current bilingual employees.
“If you have a good and positive work environment, they will spread the word among friends, family and community members when your company is seeking bilingual staff,” she said. “Recommendations like this are priceless.”
Reaching out to the community can also help make connections with individuals looking for a way to use their language skills on the job. For example, Ciskey said Afni has found people who speak English and Chinese by networking with local Chinese restaurants.
Boettcher said hiring bilingual collectors can not only help you communicate with a wider range of consumers, but it can also help promote diversity in your organization.
“Most of our potlucks have had a Spanish theme or variety, and Cinco de Mayo is also very much celebrated,” she said.
Ciskey said her agency also promotes a positive work environment for bilingual employees, in part by hosting a fundraising event in which employees sell homemade food in the break room to raise money for the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration.
“The funds pay for catered taco meat, shells and sides, and then everyone who wants to participate brings in their favorite dishes,” Ciskey said. “All of these things help to celebrate diversity and foster a feeling of inclusion.”