Is a Good Debt Collector ‘Born With It’ or Taught?

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Dean Kaplan

That’s the question posed by Arthur Cresci on LinkedIn recently, and it started a robust discussion. A number of people indicated that yes, there are certain personality traits that can enhance a person’s ability to be a good debt collector. However, many people stated that training was the more important factor.

Among the innate traits thought to be valuable for collectors were:

  • Tenacity
  • Thick-skinned
  • Cool-headedness in the face of abusive debtors
  • Good organizational and analytical skills
  • Self-motivation

However, when it comes to training, these were the skills that were deemed important enough for several mentions:

  • Selling
  • Customer service
  • Researching claims
  • Skip-tracing
  • Knowledge of the accounting cycle (i.e., when invoices should be paid)
  • Training on company policy

The bottom line from this discussion by a couple dozen people was that while training is important, hiring the right person with the right basic personality traits was more important. You can’t really teach tenacity, the ability to not personalize, self motivation, etc. However, if you hire people with these basics and add consistent training with performance incentives you can have a highly successful collector.

The answer, it might seem, is: it’s easier to teach those who are born with it.

My uncle, Jerry Kaplan, who founded the commercial collection agencies Kaplan & Kaplan in the ‘60s and The Kaplan Group in the ‘90s, definitely was “Born with It.” He was a natural, and if there was a Collectors Hall of Fame, he would be an inaugural inductee.

Me, I was anything but a natural when I started my management consulting career 30 years ago. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with an MBA but no work experience, I had some of the basic personality traits cited above (self motivation, analytical skills, tenacity) but I took things personally and did not know how to successfully handle conflict. I had to learn negotiation skills and then practice at every opportunity to experience both failure (one of the greatest learning opportunities life offers) and success and eventually gain confidence. Now I use the experience from business consulting for hundreds of clients and negotiating $500 million in mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures, licensing deals, etc., all over the world to successfully resolve large and complex debt collection issues.

As a third party commercial collector, I experienced greater success after learning how to listen, probe, commiserate and understand.  In most cases, we aren’t dealing with “bad people” but companies or business owners that have experienced an unexpected setback.  Using an approach to get them to talk and engage frequently results in learning enough to figure out how to motivate them to start paying.  Having first-hand experience as a business owner and manager helps tremendously during the process.

So it is natural evolution that I will use this blog to share tips on how to be a better debt collector and credit manager. The last couple weeks we have talked about financial statement analysis (and the free videos and eBook available on our website). Next week I’m going to discuss preparation before the collection call. But before we leave this topic of “Born With It,”, I encourage the community to help build a list in the comment section below of all the desirable personality traits. Once ‘completed,’ we’ll aggregate and organize the information for your future reference and use when you need to hire new personnel.

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Posted in BPO, Debt Collection, Large Claim Collection Experts, Opinion .

Continuing the Discussion

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  • avatar Brett Sivits says:

    Great article. I have been talking to this with collections organizations across the country and its amazing how many people believe there are only certain people in this world who can be effective debt collectors.

    What I find most is that there are only certain people who can be successful in the same way the hiring manager was successful. In other words hiring managers tend to be former collectors and believe they need to hire like individuals. They fail to see that others can be as successful or more successful in different ways.

    I will admit some folks can pick up the skills faster than others but that it certainly doesn’t mean that anyone can’t learn the skills. It all comes back to training. If you are properly training anyone can do it. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to hire the folks who can do it the fastest but everyone is redeemable.

    The only caveat to this article sized comment is that there are people who may not want to do it. In that case they will certainly not learn it.

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