Editor's Note: This article previously appeared on the Ontario Systems Blog and is republished here with permission.--


This week, Ontario Systems hosted its third weekly COVID-19 webinar for third-party collectors, “Voices from the Trenches: How Leaders Are Leading During the Crisis.” I had the pleasure of speaking with three agency executives who shared their experiences and perspectives on a variety of operational concerns related to COVID-19.

Joining us on the panel were: 

Like all of us, these leaders and their organizations were forced to adapt quickly to COVID-19—not to mention a shifting legal landscape that’s been particularly challenging for the receivables industry.

How have these leaders managed to successfully navigate the COVID-19 crisis? Here are some notable excerpts from our conversation, in the panelists’ own words.


A Study in Contrasts: 30 Days Ago vs. Today

David White, Performant

Generally speaking, our business was not remote. We were close to 100%  brick and mortar. The clients we partner with didn’t have a desire to maintain remote workers.

So fast forward to the pandemic: we’re 95% remote in our capabilities today. We’re very lucky to have client partners that have moved very quickly with us to migrate our operations to remote capacity. We’re very excited to be where we are today, and I think we’ve adapted pretty well to the situation.

Laura Jensen, ARC

Over the past couple of years, we’ve worked towards having our staff going remote. So our transition was fairly easy. We have about 95% of our staff currently working remote. We have some essential services in our office—payment, posting mail, HR, and some IT support.

We had a mixed experience [with companies we outsource to]. Some of our servicers had intended to offload calling to a remote site in the Philippines, and the Philippines went on lockdown before the U.S. So that pandemic plan didn’t bear out. This has definitely challenged a lot of people’s business continuity plans.

Tim Haag, State Collection Service

We’ve been working with remote staff, both admin and reps, for about four or five years now. So we had some experience—obviously not to where we’re at today, but we had roughly 80 people working remotely prior to COVID-19. Now, I would say 85-90% of our staff [of nearly 500 people] is remote. I’m so proud to say all that’s working well.

When communicating with consumers, the big thing is scripting. We got on that right away, started changing scripting, making less outbound calls, less texting. And I think the main thing is we continue to listen to the consumer and do what’s right to solve problems.

Meeting the Challenge of Managing Remote Workers

David White, Performant

We had individuals on the admin side and management side who were working remote, but to transition our entire staff remotely meant we had to adapt them pretty significantly to meet our clients’ requirements. We’ve got some clients at the government level that have very high expectations for data security.

Think about all the different digital assistants around your house—your Alexa, your Google, your smartwatch, your phone. When we’re working and we’re in range of those types of digital assistants, how do we ensure our customers’ data are not being picked up? How do we not have risk and exposure? We had to adapt policy and procedure wise.

Tim Haag, State Collection Service

We utilize speech analytics. We’re monitoring in a live version, so all the supervisors know exactly what’s taking place on all those calls as they’re happening. We also have the use of Artiva Magnify™, so we can jump in and listen into calls, coach calls, text messages to the representatives, or ultimately take over the call.

Prior to COVID-19, for those who did get a chance to work from home, we expected them to have a 5% improvement in productivity, If they didn’t do that, they were asked to come back into the office until that productivity came back. As time goes on, as people get more comfortable working from home, we hope to see that productivity increase with all the rest of the staff.

Engaging Consumers and Patients Suffering Hardships

Laura Jensen, ARC

We’ve consistently pushed our servicers to honor hardship policies and make sure their hardship policies are adjusted to the extent they need to be for people who are ill or out of work for COVID-19.

David White, Performant

It’s about trying to find the right payment plan for these individuals. That may mean pushing out those payment plans for a period, it may be extensions, it may be reductions in what those payoffs may be. Most of our clients have been very, very willing to work with us as it relates to finding the right solution for consumers.

Tim Haag, State Collection Service

Consumers, when we do reach out to them, are very thankful that we’re offering up solutions right away. “Hey, I see you’re on a payment plan. Do you need to defer this plan for the next 60 days?” They’re kind of surprised, like, “Wait—you’re on my side. You’re here to help. I really appreciate your reaching out.”

Keeping Remote Teams Connected and Energized

Tim Haag, State Collection Service

For a supervisor to communicate with their representatives or the agents, we utilize Microsoft Teams. So now we’re doing team meetings and individual one-on-ones using that platform.

We’ve also been using a gamification system for about two or three years. This helps keep the  excitement piece that exists inside the office, we’re still able to do that, and they can track their stats. So they can still have friendly competition. We’ve been throwing some extra carrots out there, and that’s been a lot of fun.

David White, Performant

We’ve got a very cool intranet that we utilize. The intranet allows us to do a ton of different posts on a daily basis of updates, shout outs to individuals, our CEO posts, articles once a week of feedback, what’s going on in the business, the industry—what we’re doing on all those different types of things.

Also, as part of this intranet, we can do group discussion boards that work very well. So we’ve got email, we’ve got chat, but this group discussion board is for when we have situations that come up that someone’s like, “Okay, is this unique? I’ve talked to this person, this is what was said, how do we handle this?”

Managing Compliance and Client Communications

David White, Performant

Our general counsel manages the process for us. We’ve got a moving document that’s living and breathing based on all the changes coming out of COVID-19, so that document is reviewed on a regular cadence in leadership meetings. Originally, we were meeting daily, but now we’re doing it every other day—a pandemic team call with the key stakeholders within our company.

We’ll cover all the changes that happened in the previous 24 hours. We’ll communicate what direction clients have provided us relating to that. Then we’ll typically provide guidance to our account management team, sales, and business development team about where we stand with this and the changes we’re making. And then we’ll say, “Convey this to the client and let them know what we’re going to be doing on our side, and see if that lines up with their expectations.”

Tim Haag, State Collection Service

You would actually think that [healthcare providers] aren’t worried about the day-to-day collections environment, but now they are, because there’s nobody in hospitals right now, and they’ve cancelled all surgeries. So their revenue is going down. Cash is extremely important to them right now. So we’re getting more of their attention.

We put together right away a COVID-19 response team. We meet every morning . . . for about 30 minutes to talk about communication that we’re going to send to our clients. We actually came up with a new procedure for our compliance change management process. That goes to our general counsel, and from there, he makes the change. When all this settles, we can go back and make sure all those changes were back to normal.

Lessons Learned

Laura Jensen, ARC

The biggest lesson I’ve taken away is management related: show up every day, show up for your staff, show up for your company. For me to do that, it’s getting up and having a positive attitude. It’s getting ready and being present. There’s a lot of chaos, and everybody’s scrambling and nobody knows what to do, but show up. Be present. Be a leader.

My second [lesson] is, always have your best staff. I have the best staff, and I trust my staff implicitly. I think that has been a huge help in getting through this.

Tim Haag, State Collection Service

I think continuing that communication with [employees]—”Hey, guys, it’s going to be alright; we’re going to get through this”—it means a lot. And I have been focused more not on the day-to-day things now, but let’s see what happens after this. So let’s not worry about tomorrow, but let’s start thinking about next month, six months from now, a year from now, and how we can come out on top.

David White, Performant

In a limited time, we’ve had to be remote. Hopefully our clients are understanding that this is an opportunity for the long haul, not just through the COVID-19 situation—that after we get through this, there’s an opportunity for us to adapt our workforce and adapt our offerings. I’m not advocating for 100% remote, but some flex opportunity for us to be effective.

Catch Up on Previous Discussions, and Join Us Next Week

Our past COVID-19 weekly webinars were full of valuable insights and tips related to compliance management and business continuity. You can find detailed summaries with links to the webinar replays in these recent blog posts:

Next Article: Chase Scores $250,000 Against TCPA Plaintiff Firm