I’ve worked for a small, family owned collection agency for the past three years. The response I get to that news still surprises me-from sharp inhales to embarrassed chuckles to “I’m so sorry.” But I learned valuable lessons over the years about collections and customer relations.
The awful situation you just experienced is really very common
We have three separate phone numbers: one for our clients (the businesses that put you in collections), one for small balance accounts owed (less than $1,000), and one for larger balances owed. Debtors (someone who owes a bill) call the wrong number all the time and I am constantly transferring calls to our collectors. However, our collectors are also on the phone making telephone calls, so there is rarely anyone available to answer the phone except me!
Debtor: There’s something wrong with number you gave me. It said the mailbox was full and hung up on me. I need to speak to a live person. Is there anyone I can actually speak to about my account?
What I want to say: I can’t make someone answer the phone. All I can do is transfer you to the same number I just told you to dial on your own. I’m sorry the voicemail won’t let you leave a message, but it is probably better that way, because we just delete those messages first thing every morning.
What I actually say: One moment please.
We don’t care as much as you care
Our collectors can get rude and nasty. Imagine working at a job where you are hung up on, cussed out, sworn at, lied to, and given every excuse in the book day after day, sometimes from 8 A.M. until 8 P.M. So we understand that our collectors will raise their voices. This isn’t a customer service job.
In fact, collectors are encouraged to push you into making a payment on an account, regardless of your situation. We don’t care if you lost your job, are collecting unemployment, or have a fixed income. We don’t care if your ex is supposed to pay half of the bill or you moved and never updated your address.
Our collectors won’t get in trouble for getting snotty with you. Even if you call and complain, the worst that will happen is management makes a collector change the name she uses on the phone. The snotty collector Sarah that was rude to you? We tell you we fired her. In reality, she’s sitting in the next cubicle over answering the phone as Trisha.
Once it is on your credit, we won’t remove it
The first rule in collections is never let your account go to collections. Once we place something on your credit it is difficult to get us to remove it. We earn a percentage of whatever money we collect. Once we’ve collected your money, we have no motivation to work on your account again.
Supposedly our system automatically updates the credit report to reflect payments and show accounts paid in full. However, this rarely happens. I have seen accounts paid in full in 2008 still showing an open balance on the credit report! And if there is a mistake made or a balance showing on an account that was paid in full, we tell you to dispute it with the credit bureau. We will not remove something off your credit report unless explicitly asked to by our clients.