From Collector: Connect the Dots

How to decipher what a consumer is actually trying to say.

3/13/2018 8:00 AM

From Collector: Connect the Dots

People don’t always say what they mean. This is often not because they are trying to be tricky or malicious—it’s just part of human nature.

We’ve all told little white lies to avoid an unpleasant situation or to spare someone’s feelings. In fact, a psychology study published last year found that compassionate people are actually more likely to tell white lies than others.

When you talk to consumers about an unpaid debt, you will likely speak to someone who contradicts the information you are telling them, Collector magazine editor Anne Rosso May reports in the March issue of Collector magazine.

These people are either confused, embarrassed or panicked, and it can be difficult to discern which is which and how to proceed. For instance, if the consumer says, “I don’t know what this is about—I was never at that hospital,” how can you get to the truth?

First, be compassionate and give the consumer the benefit of the doubt, Rosso May reports. You could try saying, “I’m sorry. This is for Wildwood Health System in Redwood. Do you remember being at that hospital?”

Sometimes consumers are in tough financial situations and getting calls from multiple collection agencies. This is often when the white lies come out simply because consumers can’t afford to pay all their debts in full and are embarrassed to admit it or are hoping to create confusion and delay payment, Rosso May reports.

Showing consumers kindness and providing options, such as being open to a payment plan (if your agency and client’s policy allows) to resolve their account, are ways to keep the dialogue going and determine why they haven’t paid their bill.

If consumers really did mail you a check, they will be able to give you the check number and dollar amount—but if they’ve lied about it, backing them into a corner by demanding that information only makes them feel flustered and desperate, Rosso May reports.

Showing this kindness—letting consumers out of their lie without calling them out on it—is part of good customer service.

However, you do need to be able to distinguish a stall from a dispute.

Read more on strategies to decipher communication with consumers in the March issue of Collector magazine. Special thanks to Kenlyn Gretz, president and CEO of Americollect Inc., for contributing to this article.

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