Why Do Debt Collectors Say the Same Thing on Every Call?
“This is an attempt to collect a debt…”
“We are calling because you are past due…”
“We need a payment today…”
“You must make a payment…”
“You have to pay…”
These phrases are frustrating, aren’t they? They are more frustrating when you hear it from debt collectors. They are infuriating when you hear it from debt collectors who are “pushy”, “assertive”, and even “aggressive”. And the worst part is when you hear them on every single call even when you have already spoken to someone to make arrangements to take care of the debt.
Why the Script?
So why do debt collectors say these phrases on every call at the same point on every call? As a consumer you might think that it’s a government-related phrase or possibly a script to abide by a mandated policy by the company. You would technically be right. According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) it is required by law for debt collection agencies (third-party companies) to communicate to consumers the reason for the call and who they are. The wording, however, can be adjusted to fit the debt collector company’s needs to better elicit a payment from the consumer.
As far as the debt collection company is concerned the script is one of the most important tools they have to keep their business going. So what are the main parts of the script used and why do they use it on every call?
First, the script must have certain identifiers regarding the consumer’s debt if they are speaking directly to the consumer:
- Who — name of the person calling or the company name
- Why — that a debt is being collected
- What — how much the debt is, or what is past due
- When — always today
- How — (optional) with a debit or credit card or some other form of payment method
Second, after this first introduction of information the debt collector and the consumer will discuss the particulars of taking care of the debt to not only meet the consumer’s needs but the debt collection company’s needs as well.
To add to the consumer’s confidence in the company’s ability to assist and maintain control of the call, certain praise or collaboration statements are used throughout the call:
- “You are a great customer because…”
- “Let’s work together on this…”
- “By doing this you…”
- “It’s important that we help you…”
- “This shows that you are able to…”
If you recognize these statements (either due to your numerous encounters with your debt collection company or because you work for one) you’ll notice that these statements generally occur at certain points in the call. There are two reasons for this: because the company has a certain protocol to follow that determines an employee’s performance on the call and because it may be part of a commission program.
Let’s be honest here. It is not an aspiring career choice to get yelled at by people who cannot or will not pay their debt. A commission program is a great way to compensate employees and decrease turnover rates to handle these difficult calls.
Side Note: This article refers to debt collection companies defined as companies that are in the business to collect funds on delinquent accounts and offering no other services. Some companies (direct businesses or finance companies) will have a collections or payments department but are not characterized as an actual third-party debt collector.
So why you’re wondering why three people in a row say the same thing at the same time, those employees are earning extra money on their next paycheck. Their calls are monitored and scored. They can earn a percentage of what was collected based on the quality of the call directed by their script.
It’s All About Tone
Now let’s dive a little deeper into the tone of the call.
The tone is where you get the “aggressive” nature of the call. I put aggressive in quotation marks because the consumer feels that anyone calling to collect money is automatically aggressive regardless. If Mary Poppins asked for money, certain individuals would say she was outright threatening. Truth is the tone of these calls are not aggressive, but assertive. I’ll even give you pushy, but certainly not aggressive.
To clarify, aggressive is defined by Google as ready or likely to attack or confront, while assertive is defined as having or showing a confident and forceful personality. The former definition relates to action, while the other relates to a characteristic.
Side Note: If you do experience a threatening call, report it. The FDCPA restricts businesses on how these calls are conducted.
Let’s look at a general example of an assertive and generally assuming debt collection call:
THEM: “This is Susan from Commission Debt Collector and we are calling today because you are past due $400.00 and we need to take care of that today with your debit card. I’m ready for those numbers.”
Wait, what? The gall this lady has! She’s ready to get my very private debit card information for a whopping $400 like I have that laying around for such an occasion. I mean, I’m watching my 5th straight episode of Hell’s Kitchen. You respond:
YOU: “Um, no. I don’t have $400 laying around. I can’t talk right now. I’m driving.” (We’ve all said this and not actually were driving. Also, don’t answer phone calls while you’re driving. It’s just safer for everyone on the road).
THEM: “I understand. Thank you for helping me get this taken care of today because it shows that you are a great customer. This will take just a moment. I’ll take that card number and process your $400 payment and get you back on your way.”
YOU: “Didn’t you hear me, lady? I said I’m driving and I don’t have $400. Are you not listening?”
She absolutely heard you. She also heard Gordon Ramsey cuss someone out for sucky scallops in the background, but she doesn’t let it bother her. She’s a professional. She also heard that you don’t have $400. You know what that means?
THEM: “I see. That $400 is a lot. Let’s do half of that and we will take care of the rest on another day for you. I’m ready for that card number.”
Oh my goodness. You are riled up now. It is clear that she wants something out of you. You don’t think she’s listening to you. All she wants is your money. You’re half right. She is just doing her job and her goal is to get a payment of some sort today.
YOU: “Look, I don’t have time for this. I don’t have $400. I don’t have $200. Call me later.”
THEM: “I understand. Let’s do $50 today because you are over 100 days past due and we will work together to find the best solution for you on the remainder that is past due. I’m ready for the card number.”
What is this lady’s deal? Why is she so pushy with this? Why does she keep asking for my debit card number at the end of the sentence? Am I really over 100 days past due? What happened?
Side Note: Most collection agencies have settlement programs if you are over a certain number of days past due. Don’t be afraid to ask.
You gird your loins and realize that you still don’t have what she’s asking for.
YOU: “No, I said I can’t do anything. Stop asking me for my card number. I don’t even have a card.”
Everyone has a debit or credit card of some kind. But good try.
THEM: “I understand. Because you are not able to do anything today, we will schedule the $400 on your next semi-monthly due date for a total of $450 on the banking information we have on file for you.”
YOU: “No, don’t do that. I won’t have it. It’s too much.”
THEM: “Again, I understand. I will help you. Let’s split up the $400 into two payments of $200 on your next two due dates so we can continue to keep you as a great customer.”
Hang on. I think I can do that. I am a great customer and everyone should know it. That sounds better than $450 all at once. You agree to let her schedule it for you.
THEM: “Wonderful. So your next two payments will be $250 on your next two due dates to keep with your minimum payments of $50 and take care of that past due.”
You begrudgingly accept the terms. She thanks you for your time goes over a few things on your account to make sure it’s all accurate and then tells you to have a great day.
To you, she’s helped you out with two semi-monthly payments of $250, but to her, she’s earned roughly 5% (this is a very high percentage, for illustrative purposes only) if those payments go through. That’s $25 added to her paycheck because she followed her script, even though she wasn’t able to secure a payment for the same day of the call. If she does this enough times throughout the day, she will have a good commission. She will now be able to pay her own debt collector.
After a few moments. You decide that you can’t do the $250 twice in one month. You call the company back…
“Thank you for calling Commission Debt Collector. I see your account and you are past due $400. Let’s take care of that today with your debit card.”
The process starts all over again. Each employee must deliver performance wise on each call as best as they can so they, too, can earn their commission, because $12 an hour doesn’t cut it anymore.
They Are Not Coming to Get You
Debt collection companies are not out to get you. Let’s get that straight. They are literally calling you to collect a debt that you owe. They have to follow a script. They have to use a direct and assuming tone. They have to do their job. Many of them truly do want to help you out if you’re going through a difficult situation. If you take what they say personal, then those phone calls will never get any easier for you.
Now that you have a better understanding of why debt collectors say the same thing on every call, you can work with them a little better to pay your debt. The more questions you ask, the better the conversation goes, the more you help them out, and the more they’ll help you out.