With collection agency values reaching their highest levels in decades, this may very well be “the golden age of debt collections.” Drilling down through the layers of agency functionality provides some insight into how those values promote compliance. While most of the values support an organizational framework that indirectly influences compliance, the value of respect has direct impact on the manner in which agencies communicate with consumers.
Executive management sets the tone for the entire organization by demonstrating values (respect, leadership, commitment, teamwork and accountability) with the sales and marketing teams, the client relations department, and the entire operations hierarchy (senior management, supervisors, leads and consumer relations representatives). The effect is quite contagious in a very positive sense with consumers being the final beneficiaries or “end users” of each value.
Clients are also beneficiaries because collection agency values help increase their return on investment, brand protection and customer retention.
Finally, the values are intertwined with each other in an expandable mosaic of positive influence and compliance.
Respect for Consumers
The respectful treatment of consumers is often attributed to the changes implemented by the credit and collections industry after the passage of consumer protection laws.
Approved by both houses of Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the oldest law protecting indebted consumers. The bill defines the hours of compliant phone contact and also prohibits practices including harassment, intimidation and shaming. Contacting consumers at their workplace or publishing their names on bad debt lists are also banned.
Agencies learned how to leverage compliance into effective and simultaneously respectful collection practices after the passage of the FDCPA.
Today’s consumer relations representatives at top-tier agencies are well-trained in compliance. Their objective is quite simple — professionally negotiate affordable repayment plans that consumers are willing to participate in. The results thus far show that consumers respond more favorably to kinder treatment than to old-school tactics.
Respect for Employees
Some agencies have mission statements defining the respectful treatment of consumers, clients and employees. These company policies create respect on all levels of engagement. Ideally, they are practiced internally on a daily basis and externally whenever staff members interact with clients, vendors or consumers.
The job application process, for example, has elements of both worlds. Recruiters demonstrate respect by engaging in professional and timely interactions with candidates. The setting could be a job fair or a follow-up call to keep prospects in the loop during the hiring process. Respectful recruitment is a selling point that may help candidates choose one firm over another.
Once hired, the training process presents another golden opportunity to show respect. Everyone is new at some point in their careers. A new job may be uncomfortable in the early stages, but receiving respect during orientation and new-hire training can make all the difference in the world. It may also stay with individuals during their entire term of employment.
The effect comes full circle when staff members treat consumers with respect or become supervisors who continue the legacy while interacting with future staff members.
Leadership affects all of the collection agency values, including the underlying characteristics of respect. This is another opportunity for management to teach the ethical characteristics of compliance by example.
In this context, leadership translates into respecting clients, consumers and employees as well as the agency and other organizations.
Leadership also plays an important role in supporting the members of compliance management teams: compliance attorneys, directors of corporate compliance, and quality assurance departments. Leadership also directs compliance education: new-hire training programs and monthly refresher sessions for experienced managers and collectors.
Finally, leadership is demonstrated when supervisors or managers listen to and consider consumer concerns. Applying objectivity and critical thinking during these interactions instills a sense of fairness that is appreciated by consumers.
Committing to the fulfillment of compliance management systems is also important to agencies and their clients. In this context, components from a list established by Entrepreneur magazine, “The 10 Commitments for Excellence in Business,” are aligned with how commitment can benefit collection agency values and compliance:
- See the good.
- Work hard.
- Be consistent.
- Be passionate.
- Maintain self-respect.
- Keep things in balance.
- Seek feedback.
Naturally, these commitments are directly involved with the people and processes behind each level of compliance.
On a communications level, commitment toward compliance starts at the top and works its way down through middle management, supervisors, and finally, to consumer relations representatives having direct contact with consumers.
It is important to remember that the entire agency must fully support the concept of respecting consumers because laws alone rarely implement change.
First, executive and senior managers work with middle managers to maintain existing policies and procedures, or add new layers of compliance as needed. Second, there is knowledge sharing among collectors working in the same departments and sections. Next, consumer relations supervisors, leads and representatives challenge each other to meet quarterly collection goals and help mentor the new hires.
The quality assurance department fosters teamwork by recommending additional compliance training for new collectors who may deviate from existing compliance policies or procedures.
Accountability provides the checks and balances behind agency compliance management systems and is built into nearly all consumer protection laws. It’s also part of any collection agency values system.
Agencies create accountability by maintaining compliance, offering transparency, and responding to the concerns and interests of clients and their consumers.
Accountability also stimulates a sense of confidence among collectors who are trained to understand the boundaries of the related laws. This confidence frequently inspires them to find creative and compliant ways of negotiating consumer repayment plans.
Collection Agency Values at Optio Solutions
Some agencies build elements of compliance into their mission, vision and values. A segment of Optio Solutions’ mission statement — “treat customers, consumers and associates with respect and integrity in a professional and ethical manner at all times” — introduces the concept of respect. The document also lists other collection agency values including leadership, commitment, accountability and philanthropy.
Optio has a comprehensive compliance management system that encompasses internal management audits, vendor management policies, data security policies, payment processing procedures, complaint and dispute resolution policies, record retention guidelines and more. These elements underline the agency’s commitment and accountability to clients and consumers.
Finally, Optio maintains Professional Practice Management System (PPMS) certification from ACA International. This ambitious undertaking includes 18 categories of certification, including the auditing of compliance management systems.
Contact us today to learn how our collection agency values and a compliance management system can improve your organization’s ROI, brand protection and customer retention.