Collecting Money from People with BIG egos

We collect from all types of people undergoing financial distress and how they talk with us determines how we tackle them. Usually, customers are just ‘normal’ when under distress, but how to deal with ‘special’ people. Like people with over-inflated egos, VIPs, and even narcissists in financial distress?

Generally speaking, people with big egos have an inordinate sense of self-love. They can be the “life of the party” because they are the party. They appear friendly, open, and larger-than-life when not under stress. To them, the rest of us are there to merely watch, admire, and serve them. They are ALWAYS right and have difficulty accepting when they are wrong, even when confronted by facts. Although they are in love with themselves, their skin is paper-thin. Any perceived slights are treated like personal attacks—and never forgotten. To increase your chance of collecting payment, you need to be extra careful when speaking with them to protect their fragile selves.

Some of these people will have difficulty even accepting that their accounts are overdue, or that they are responsible for the non-payment. “How could my account be overdue? And it’s your fault that I never got a call or email to alert me!”

And the payment solutions they offer can be fantastical, yet to them, they seem perfectly reasonable because they’re “good for it”. But be careful rejecting their horrible payment proposals because they will think that you are personally rejecting them. In my experience, BIG ego customers have a high broken promise rate.

Unlike most overdue customers, they have difficulty admitting that they have financial problems. Their lives are supposed to be perfect, or at least better than yours, and at all costs, they don’t want to expose any flaws to outsiders in their perfect lives. So, outwardly they appear flush with cash: drive expensive cars, wear nice suits, flash expensive jewelry, and brag about overseas vacations (never forgetting to slip in that they flew first-class and stayed at Five-Star hotels). My architect friend had a Hong Kong BIG ego customer tell him, “I can’t pay your fee because I need to buy a new Bentley!”

I’ll admit it. People with big egos can be fun and exciting– until they’re not. Their friendly and gregarious demeanor can change right before your eyes if you clumsily confront them with the painful facts of their overdue account.

In one private meeting with a BIG ego customer, his nature changed when I politely confronted him with the facts of his non-payment. He admitted that his financial condition was truly horrible. I’ll never forget that meeting. The word that best describes it is ‘melting’. He was sitting in his prestigious office with awards hanging on the wall, sitting in a fancy chair; then telling me he hadn’t paid office rent for eight months and was borrowing money from his two employees– one of whom was a cleaner! As he explained his financial problems, his usual upright posture began to slump. His voice wavered. His gaze lowered. He melted as he confessed his dire financial straits. It must have been extremely hard for his ego to allow him to voice his financial truth.

But such a meltdown will never happen in a public setting. Their ego prevents it.

A collection technique I use on customers with BIG egos is to express confidence in them (even if I don’t have confidence in them). Some customers will try to pay you just to avoid disappointing you. Perhaps you won’t collect the full balance, but at least you will get something.

When you do present the account’s painful overdue facts, figures, and negative consequences; do it sensitively. If you’re too tough, they will fight back to preserve their ego.

For example, don’t say something like:

“Mr./Ms. X, you said on (date 1) and again on (date 2) that you would pay $……… But we never received it. Now we will commence legal action against you.”

You can expect either a fight or the customer will ghost you. Perhaps even skip town.

Instead say something like:

“Mr. / Ms. X (or perhaps using their first name is better?), I know you meant what you said on (date 1) and (date 2) about taking care of this matter. Unfortunately, the payment wasn’t received. I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but we need to start legal action against you. However, I’m here to help as I know you don’t want that to happen either.”

 Then you start negotiating. Will you get the money? Who knows? But the customer likely won’t fight or ghost you as you presented the painful facts smoothly.

More collection tips for BIG ego customers:

1) Motivate them to pay by telling them how the non-payment affects their image. Image affecting collection tools work well like repossession, foreclosure, auction, negative credit ratings, bankruptcy, credit hold, word-on-the-street. Money tools like penalty charges and fees are less effective.

2) It’s easier for you to enter their dream world, where they play the role of king or queen, than you trying to have them enter your real world. Once you are in their dream world, link the preservation of their dream world to satisfying your overdue debt (the real world). If you share the reality too harshly and too soon, it will cause a fight or flight response. I’ve seen such customers destroy relationships, leave jobs, spouses, businesses, and skip town to avoid looking like a failure and preserve their dream world.

3) Compliments work well because our egos never refuse them. My friend, John, is a business owner who needed to collect a large sum from his narcissistic business partner. Let’s call her Nancy. Instead of asking her for the overdue amount straight-away, he started the conversation by complimenting her. He said how much smarter she was than he (John is a PhD). Afterwards, he begged her to pay. “Nancy, if you would be so kind as to give me (not pay) $…….. today and another $…. (date 2), I would be forever grateful.”

Although Nancy acted rich, she was nearly broke. John’s compliments and begging placed her ego on such a high pedestal that she couldn’t say no. Although it took two years of collection efforts, she eventually paid to avoid the personal shame of disappointing John. Nancy has since declared personal bankruptcy and John was one of the few creditors who recovered his money. His business is doing well with 70 employees.

Is it fun to beg? No! But if I can collect some money, what the hell.

4) Similar to using compliments is using surprise. I say something like this, “Mr / Ms X, I was surprised to see your account was overdue. You probably just forgot about it because you’re a great customer. Please make the payment today.” Customers won’t argue with you.

Characteristics of customers with BIG egos:

  • Have problems sustaining satisfying relationships. Ego-preservation is more important than preserving relationships. They may have many superficial friends. They like you only because you give them what they want: attention and agreement. Once you stop, they won’t like you.
  • Hyper-sensitive to insults, jokes, and imagined insults. Watch your words.
  • Vulnerable to shame, but not guilt. Image is important. Expensive clothes, cars, jewelry, watches, golf club membership. They are concerned about what others think, especially VIPs. They don’t pay you because it’s the right thing to do. They pay to avoid their image suffering. Creditors that sustain their image and status get paid first.
  • Pretend to be more important than they really are. They will name-drop and brag about emails, meetings, calls, and SMSs received from VIPs. They are ‘the wheel’.
  • Brag and exaggerate achievements. They will say things like, “And then, I said ……….’” They are the hero in every story. Tip: don’t interrupt their stories! (even if you’ve heard them countless times).
  • Claim to be an expert in many things and remind you that you are not the expert. They believe they can do your job better than you. They are always smarter. Don’t get into silly arguments with them because even if you win, you lose because their image suffers.


Change your words. Change your world.

People with BIG egos are fragile, so present your words carefully.

Avoid clumsy collector phrases:   

“If you don’t pay, we will……” 

Narcissists view themselves as successful and powerful. They view you as just a collector. If you speak too direct, they will think, “How dare s/he talk to me like that?”

“Your non-payment is seriously affecting how I view working with you on future deals.” Or: “I need you to pay $______ within 30 days or I will ……”

Again, you are shaming them and taking control. You are rubbing their failure in their face. To preserve their ego, they will have a fight or flight reaction.

Here are some better phrases:

  • “I know this amount isn’t much for you, but it would really help me to get it cleared.”

The amount is probably a lot and that’s why it isn’t paid, but they won’t admit it. They want to appear rich.


  • “I’m so sorry about having to bring this matter up as I know you will clear it soon, but I need to get my boss off my back and tell him/her exactly when payment will be made.” 

You are showing you believe in them. You are also politely telling them that the non-payment is seen by others and affecting their image.


  • “My boss was surprised this account was overdue because you’re such a great (compliment). When can I tell my boss the amount is cleared?”

Again, you’re asking for protection money—image protection. You’re also using the ‘surprise’ technique.


  • (Conversation closing phrase): “Well, I really enjoyed our conversation. Thanks for your commitment to clear (amount) by (date). I wish I had more customers like you. Bye.”

This closing phrase may sound silly—to you, but to BIG ego customers, it sounds great. They love compliments. Will you get the money? I don’t know, but I do know that if you go in with guns ablazin’; you’ll get nothing. Don’t worry, you can always use the legal option and other tougher collection tools later.

Getting people to pay is an art. Collectors try to get people to do something they don’t want to do: PAY. But to do this we can’t treat all customers the same. Some we treat hard, some soft, and some very soft. I’m not saying you can’t be hard on BIG ego customers, but what I am saying is you better start soft.

At your service.

Steve Coyle is the Managing Consultant of ServiceWinners International based in Kuala Lumpur. He’s an American international credit and collections trainer and author of, ‘Debt Collections: Stir-Fried or Stir-Fried?’ available at Amazon. His new book is ‘Good Boss, Better Boss’ available on Amazon , Shopee, MPH Online, MPH & Popular Bookstores, Kindle. Edisis Melayu adalah. /


P.S.: For those who want more information about narcissism, Hotchkiss’s 7 Deadly Sins is interesting.

Hotchkiss’s 7 Deadly Sins of Narcissism

1) Shamelessness: Shame is the feeling that lurks beneath all unhealthy narcissism, and the inability to process shame in healthy ways.

2) Magical thinking: Narcissists see themselves as perfect, using distortion and illusion known as magical thinking. They also use projection to dump shame onto others.

3) Arrogance: A narcissist who is feeling deflated may reinflate by diminishing, debasing, or degrading somebody else.

4) Envy: A narcissist may secure a sense of superiority in the face of another person’s ability by using contempt to minimize the other person.

5) Entitlement: Narcissists hold unreasonable expectations of particularly favorable treatment and automatic compliance because they consider themselves special. Failure to comply is considered an attack on their superiority, and the perpetrator is considered an “awkward” or “difficult” person. Defiance of their will is a narcissistic injury that can trigger narcissistic rage.

6) Exploitation: This can take many forms but always involves the exploitation of others without regard for their feelings or interests. Often the other is in a subservient position where resistance would be difficult or even impossible. Sometimes the subservience is not so much real as assumed.

7) Bad boundaries: Narcissists do not recognize that they have boundaries and that others are separate and are not extensions of themselves. Others either exist to meet their needs or may as well not exist at all. Those who provide narcissistic supply to the narcissist are treated as if they are part of the narcissist and are expected to live up to those expectations. In the mind of a narcissist, there is no boundary between self and others.



Evil stepmother:

Melting man:

More tips:

Change your words, change your world:

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