The Importance of a People-First Approach to Collections in Debt Recovery  

A consumer’s propensity to pay is dependent on how the agent (collector?) manages the dialog. Preparing for confidence and competence matters as Practice equals Profits.  

Is being a collector the hardest job in the contact center industry? Matching empathy to consumers’ challenges, following complex processes, pivoting from discovery to collection while assuring a positive CSAT score is a big challenge. The head of the practice is dealing with complaints, attrition while consistently improving performance with shrinking budgets. 

Collections call centers may not may not readily think that performance drivers such as customer service are in any way related to debt collection. However, the truth is that the effectiveness of a debt collection operation directly correlates with its customer service prowess.  

By adopting a new perspective and exercising patience and empathy, a debt collector’s call can genuinely provide assistance and even a positive experience. Ultimately, the objective remains centered on aiding the customer. 

That is why the significance of prioritizing people-first collections in debt recovery cannot be overstated. In an industry where finance operations have the highest rate of call centers at 26% globally according to Zippia, placing the needs and well-being of individuals at the forefront is a must. Debt collection contact centers can differentiate themselves from competitors by fostering a more positive and productive approach.  

Recognizing that every debtor is a person with unique circumstances and challenges, a people-first approach emphasizes empathy, understanding, and open communication. This makes collection interactions all the better for the debtor but also for the agent. According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, large collection companies experience up to 75 to 100% annual turnover rates. 


Such high numbers prove the need to focus on a people-first sort of interaction, turning hard collections into positive customer experiences for both agents and debtors. Failing to do so may result in critical obstacles for the success and efficiency of a call center, such as: 

  • Lack of customer satisfaction: Without a people-first approach, customers may feel disregarded, leading to dissatisfaction with the collection process. 
  • Decreased payment compliance: Insufficient emphasis on empathy and effective listening can result in a lack of trust between debt collectors and debtors, leading to decreased willingness to pay debts. 
  • Strained client relationships: Failing to negotiate win-win solutions can strain the relationships with clients who rely on effective debt recovery strategies. 
  • Negative brand image: Customers who have bad experiences with collection call centers may develop negative perceptions of the company or brand, impacting its reputation. 
  • Legal complications: A lack of empathy and proper communication may increase the likelihood of legal disputes or complaints from debtors, further complicating the debt recovery process. 
  • Overall reduced efficiency: Without an empathetic and people-focused approach, debt collectors may struggle to effectively communicate and negotiate payment plans, leading to delays and inefficiencies in debt recovery efforts, costing the operation thousands. 

To start turning that ship around, agents need to be able to learn and execute certain general skills that are very important in collection call center scenarios.  

  • Positivity: Maintain a positive and professional tone without judgment towards the debtor. 
  • Understanding: Show compassion towards the debtor’s situation and the client’s payment needs. 
  • Patience: Demonstrate patience by speaking calmly and at a slower pace to help calm the debtor. 
  • Confidence: Speak with confidence, offering clear information about the debtor’s agreement with the client. 
  • Compliance: Respect the rules of debt collection and honor the debtor’s rights by introducing yourself, stating representation, and explaining the purpose of the call. 

Having agents equipped with these skills from week one can significantly enhance operational efficiencies, leading to improved productivity and reduced costs. How? Here’s an example:  

By focusing training and coaching in this set of skills, agents can achieve not only their collection targets but also improve customer retention. It matters because even a modest 5% improvement in customer retention can lead to a significant cost reduction of up to 10% and a substantial increase in profits ranging from 20% to 90%,  according to a study conducted by Bain and Company

Key Challenges in Contact Center Collections Today 

What’s keeping many agents from showcasing those skills on the floor on their first weeks are mainly three challenges that most collections industry players face:  

Efficiently Addressing Customers in Financial Distress 

Cultivating empathy and understanding: Agents often struggle to establish meaningful connections and build trust when trying to empathize with customers experiencing financial distress, making it difficult to execute effective debt recovery. 

Managing emotionally charged situations: Agents have trouble handling customers’ heightened emotions with finesse. New hires especially tend to fail in employing active listening skills, and demonstrating compassion while adhering to industry best practices. 

Being Able to Negotiate with Resistant or Uncooperative Customers 

Utilizing effective negotiation techniques: Persuasive communication is hard to achieve. New and tenure agents still have issues grasping customer objections and adapting strategies to reach mutually agreeable resolutions. 

Overcoming objections and resistance: In collections, agents face a lot of pushback that impedes them to provide compelling explanations and present tailored solutions to address the specific circumstances of each customer. 

Optimizing the Connection Rate 

The importance of making every connection count: Failing to minimize missed opportunities and capitalize every touchpoint may block successful debt recovery outcomes, which costs operations a lot of money.  

Leaving persuasive voicemails: Professionals in the field claim to struggle with leaving voicemails that really resonate with customers. For customers, the likelihood of payment increases by 75% after receiving a text message, according to FICO Blog. You might think that voice mail works quite as well.  

When using these channels, but failing to capture attention and incite prompt responses, call centers lose the chance for successful debt recovery. 

Main Performance Drivers for Successful Collections Contact Centers  

Payment Arrangement Rate  

If call center agents lack effective negotiation techniques or struggle to overcome objections, customers may be less likely to agree to payment arrangements. This can result in a lower payment arrangement rate, impacting the call center’s ability to recover debts efficiently. As a consequence, the call center may experience increased costs due to prolonged debt recovery processes. 

Collection Recovery Rate  

If call center agents fail to cultivate empathy and understanding, customers may feel unheard or unsupported, leading to a lower likelihood of debt repayment. A lower collection recovery rate implies that the call center is less successful in recovering outstanding debts, which can increase costs and reduce operational efficiency.  

It may require additional resources and efforts to pursue alternative debt recovery methods, affecting overall cost-effectiveness. 

How SymTrain Addresses these Challenges 

Industry leaders embracing innovation have effectively started addressing these challenges through the implementation of automated training and coaching for contact centers. This progressive approach has led to remarkable benefits, including reduced attrition rates, improved collections outcomes, and a distinctive competitive edge.  

How? Like this: 

  • Empathy enhancement and effective communication: SymTrain’s AI-powered coaching can focus on empathy and communication skills, therefore impacting your CSAT scores, FCR, and payment arrangement rate. Improving the agents’ ability to connect with customers through simulation results in 12-15% increase in customer satisfaction scores. 
  • Advanced negotiation techniques and objection handling: With SymTrain you can incorporate negotiation and objection scenarios to new hire training or upskilling coaching sessions, enhancing your collection recovery rates. This leads to 15% improvement in overall collections outcomes and the increase on the amount of recovered payments. 
  • Using benchmarks to measure team behaviors against successful agents: Quantifying team behaviors against successful agents can benefit agent performance, AHT, and call quality. By using SymTrain to compare performance against established benchmarks you can achieve improvements of 7-9% in new hires performance, as well as balance the scores of your tenure agents. This way team leads can identify more areas for improvement to drive quality across the whole team. 
  • Modeling coaching programs to make every connection count: Developing coaching programs with SymTrain enable you to focus on the specifics of conversion rate and better call length. By implementing varied call scenarios to train and coach, companies have been able to reduce 3-8% in AHT.  

To promote your team’s capabilities and unlock their full potential, you have to consider embracing automated role-play for contact centers. By harnessing an innovative platform like SymTrain, your team gains access to a unique set of tools that effectively build the muscles of success.  

With SymTrain’s proven track record, achieving 30-50X ROI becomes an attainable reality in just weeks. Moreover, the platform’s swift implementation and tangible outcomes ensure a hard dollar ROI within just 10 minutes, empowering your team with immediate and measurable benefits.  

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