I am a bill collector. Yep, I am the guy calling people and asking them to pay their medical bills, traffic fines, bad checks and gym memberships. While this may not sound like the most glamorous of professions, the benefits are great. And it helps to keep the bill collectors from calling me.
Working at a collection agency was not the job I dreamed of as a kid. (I know, you’re shocked, right?) I am pretty sure that no one dreams of working at a call center, much less at a collection agency. It’s something that you happen upon, usually when you’re busy looking for something else.
As a young adult, the opportunity to work a steady job with great pay and benefits, without any credentials or experience, is alluring. Talented people who were unable to successfully navigate the educational system are welcomed with open arms. Hard working folks who went into retail after high school find the opportunity for growth much more abundant in this environment.
It is especially tempting to educated people who have exhausted all of their options looking for work in their desired field. That sociology degree sounded great when you were picking a major as a first year college student. It turns out no one is hiring people with sociology degrees (besides, what do sociologists do anyways?). I have interviewed and hired dozens of frustrated applicants who’ve earned multiple bachelor’s or master’s degrees but can’t even get hired at Gymboree.
Many of the people that I have hired secretly believed that their time at the call center would be limited to how long it took them to find a “real job”. Most, if not all, stayed after they realized how much money they had the potential to earn, not to mention how great the benefits are. Eventually, you adjust your lifestyle and become a slave to this job that provides such a comfortable life.
Call center jobs can provide enough for people to buy a home, build a family and save for retirement. These folks are tax paying members of their communities and provide a very necessary service to the economy. Most of them are nice folks who just want to earn an honest living.
You’ll find the same level of professionalism and attention to detail in a call center as you would find in any other industry or setting. In fact, most of the people who work in call centers are also clients or are otherwise served by these same call centers.
This job wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have to take phone calls…
If you have to pick up the phone and call a business, it usually means something has gone wrong. You’re not happy. We’re not happy that you’re not happy and we want to fix it. The person answering your call is not the person that screwed up…they’re the one that is going to help you fix your problem. Screaming at them does not help them help you.
We all know what it feels like to be promised something at a store and then find out that we got something completely different when we got home. Or, we got what we ordered, but the bill is 50% more than what we were quoted.
Having to call, wait on hold, press option 3, wait on hold some more and then have to explain what’s happened is frustrating. It sucks that you have to do that. We don’t want life to suck for you. But when you attack the person that answers the phone (the one that is trying to help you), you’ve just made their life suck. People are much less helpful when their life sucks.
If we have to pick up the phone to call you, it’s probably because you have not done something you should’ve done a long time ago. If you’re not happy, it’s likely that it’s your fault (and not ours).
And here comes the excuses:
The bank screwed up… I never got a bill in the mail… My insurance was supposed to pay… I already paid it… They told me I didn’t have to pay…
We both know that none of this crap true. You’re hoping that your bluff will be enough to get us off the phone.
You are lucky if I am the one calling you…
I don’t like conflict. That probably sounds funny coming from a guy that has worked at various collection agencies for more than 12 years.
I am a debtor. Everyone, at one point or another, is a debtor. I understand how it feels to owe money that you cannot pay right now. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of how much money they owe. This is reflected in how I talk to people.
I always start each call with a polite, conciliatory tone with the belief that I can work with someone through any issue and find a positive resolution. If you don’t owe the bill, let’s explore how to prove that. Absent that proof, let’s make a reasonable plan to resolve the matter.
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar
For the people that are polite and honest, I will bend over backwards to help them. While my primary objective is to get people to pay, my hope is to do so in a way that is as pleasant as it is professional. With this approach, I’ve found that people will pay me before they pay their other bills because I deal them in a way that lets them save face.
But some people are not polite or honest:
Even after I politely introduce myself…
Even after I allow them to speak their mind…
Even after I tell them that I am here to help…
Even after I offer to let them talk to my supervisor…
In fact, some folks are down-right mean. Even though I am not the cause of their frustration, they are gonna take it out on me – lying, cursing, yelling, insulting and threatening. These are the same people who are probably cruel to animals, beat their children or are abusive to their spouses.
If the only way you can release the anger you have at the world is to lash out at customer service representatives, you are destined to live a frustrated life. Perhaps this is why life is shitting on you in this moment.
The next time you find yourself getting upset at a customer service person, remember that these folks are people too. They are collecting a paycheck just like you. They don’t own the company. They don’t make policy decisions. In most cases, they get little to no input on the functionality of their jobs. One more thing to remember: if you are mean to customer service representatives, you’re an asshole.