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?

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A client recently asked me to combine customer service training with my normal debt collections training. The organization was getting too many customer complaints and it didn’t want to lose customers and spread negative word-of-mouth. The big boss said something that hit me hard. She said, “Some of the collectors are too harsh. They make customers feel small.”

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In this age of Customer Experience, numerous companies say, ‘customers are the lifeblood of our business.’ They also may tell their investors, customers, and employees:

– “Customers are always right.”

– “Customers are the reason we’re here.”

– “No customer; no you.”

Those taglines should apply to most of our customers, but there is a tiny minority who are sheer dumb-asses. Let’s face it, there are some terrible customers out there. Many will negatively affect your company’s profits and employees.

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Refuse-to-Pays are some of the most difficult debtors to tackle. I much prefer angry customers because when people are angry, they usually care. If I can calm them down, listen to them, solve their issues; then I’m usually able to collect.

But ‘Refuse-to-Pays’ say things like:

  • “Go ahead, get in line, sue me.”
  • “Do what you have to do, I’m not paying.”
  • “I don’t care.”

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Too often I hear collectors Kung-Fu fighting with their customers. Each side hitting the other with verbal reasons about paying and not paying. Often it degenerates into nasty arguments and terminated calls. Some collectors will say, “Well, I taught him a lesson.” The problem is that collectors aren’t paid to teach lessons.  They are paid to collect money and help customers out of negative situations.

So, I try to avoid Kung-Fu and instead use Tai Chi and Judo. These techniques are quick and easy and they have helped me collect money. I will share six debtor situations that work well with Tai Chi and Judo.

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Customer as a Friend

My first job was to be a Customer Service agent at a cellular phone service company. I remember during my induction training, the CS trainer told us how important it was to treat customers friendly, nicely, and delightfully. And I didn’t disagree with all that. The 2-week training ended with a song about how great we treat our customers. I was sold.

Then I was assigned to the Bill Collections department.

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Early in my credit career, I was taught: beware of sales. I was told, “You can make a good sales guy out of a credit guy, but you can never do the reverse.”


Perhaps these beliefs were due to the stereotypes we had of each other. Just looking at them I could differentiate the sales guys from the credit guys. The salespeople seemed to always be smiling, even laughing loudly sometimes. They dressed better than us plain credit folks. They had larger expense accounts and drove company cars. Although they looked better, most of them were more disorganized than the average credit guy. They called us “credit geeks” and we called them “sales jerks.” It felt like my old high school days with the nerds vs. the jocks.

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