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Dean Kaplan

Many debt collection trainers stress the importance of LISTENING. Some say it is the most important skill for a collector.

Of course, in order to be able to listen, you need the debtor to be talking. As collectors, our goal is to get immediate payment or real commitment to pay as quickly as possible.  We are told to control the conversation and keep it on point. But, if we ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, we are not encouraging the debtor to talk and therefore we don’t have the opportunity to listen.

Open-ended questions typically require more than a one word response. That forms the basis for the beginning of a conversation. But once debtors are talking, they may not be telling us what we need to know in order to successfully resolve the matter. They may not be clearly communicating what they are trying to tell us or we may not be understanding correctly. Good questions can also help us understand what they are NOT saying.

There are two types of questions that can help: Developmental Questions and Clarifying Questions.

Developmental questions are designed to get more information and keep the conversation going. We may not have any idea what the answer might be. We may not even now how the answer will help lead to recovery. But the question shows active listening and leads to more dialog. Here are some examples:

  • Can you give me an example?

  • I don’t quite understand, can you explain more about …?

  • Then what?

Information on debt collection of large commercial accountsWith a clarifying question, we are truly trying to understand a specific point the person has made. We could be looking for specific details or a broader understanding.  We don’t want them to just repeat what they have already told us, so a clarifying question can include a paraphrase of the person’s comments:

  • What did you mean when you said …?

  • From what you are telling me, (summarize it), I get the sense you …?

  • If I hear you correctly, …?

As collectors, there is only one question we really care about: when will you pay? But going straight to the point may not be the best way to actually get paid.