Everyone knows what a checklist is. But not many know how it came to be so widely used.

On October 30, 1935, U.S. Army Air Corp Major Ployer P. Hill climbed aboard a new bomber designated the Boeing Model 299, known affectionately as the “Flying Fortress” — the pride of Boeing and the hope of the US Army.

Major Hill was a veteran pilot with over 18 years of experience.  As a test pilot, Hill had evaluated almost 60 aircraft.  However, on this day with officials from the Pentagon, politicians, and representatives of Boeing present, the plane took off and as it climbed turned to one side and crashed into the earth.  The crew was badly burned and had to be rescued and two later died due to their injuries, including Major Hill.

It was later determined that Major Hill had made a simple mistake.  He had forgotten to release one of the breaking systems, making the plane impossible to pilot.

The pilots met together to discuss options to increase their ability to manage the aircraft in all situations.  The group decided they did not need additional training. They concluded that they needed a system to quickly and effectively access the knowledge and training they had already received.  The conclusion they reached is a simple one: they needed a checklist.

A checklist does not just have to be a simple list of items you do not want to forget. It can serve as a model for how you wish to perform in a particular situation, including a collection call:

The Collection Equation

  1. Prepare
  2. Build Credibility and Curiosity
  3. Set Expectations
  4. Analyze Consumer
  5. Instill Urgency
  6. Establish a Plan
  7. Commit and Close

Collectors have understood for years that to be successful on a collection call they simply needed to discover the conflict and resolve the consumer’s issues.   While overcoming objections is still a valuable skill it is ultimately not enough.  Collectors must act as financial advisor, negotiator, and even sometimes a friend. In an increasingly complex environment, our collectors must do much more.  This new level of complexity calls for a new model to not only frame a collectors thinking but also tap into already acquired skills.

The Collection Equation is a surprisingqly simple and flexible approach to collections.  It serves the need for collectors in this market to remain professional and maintain or improve their success rates. The areas addressed are simple and like an equation, a successful outcome does not necessarily require everything be done in a certain order.  The Equation gives collectors the flexibility to address the needs of any situation while on a collection call:


Every collector should of course be prepared mentally for every call.  As much as possible they should be aware of the client and their business model.  It seems obvious but collectors should be able to confidently demonstrate an understanding of the software and hardware they use to complete their job as well as know what can be negotiated during the call.

Build Credibility and Curiosity
A collector should be able to speak in a professional manner that engages the consumer.   That professionalism extends to both how and what a collector says.    By establishing credibility and piquing curiosity of the consumer a collector will have an easier time of discussing the issue at hand.  This allows for collectors to differentiate themselves from other collectors and competing demands for the consumer’s money.  In short, they need to be able to keep consumers on the phone.

Set Expectations
If you don’t ask, you won’t get.  Collectors should be able to establish reasonable expectations that are understood by the consumer throughout the call.  It’s much more than asking for payment in full.  It’s managing the expectations of the consumer and establishing how the relationship will operate.   It’s everything from the time frame they will pay by, to the method they will pay, etc.

Analyze Consumer
This is the time in the call when a collector must mirror their consumer.  It requires the skill of identifying how the consumer wants to communicate and possessing the ability to match that style and cater the approach.

Instill Urgency
The moment of power in every collection call is the moment when the collector truly discovers what is important to the consumer.  The collector should understand how to take what is important to a consumer and ethically turn that into an immediate desire to pay.

Establish a Plan
Collectors should understand that negotiating is a skill and there is a specific time and place for it.  They need to reasonably understand what to expect and when to push for more.

Commit and Close
Too many good collectors have subpar performance because of their lack of ability or understanding of when to close.  Just like in sales, you need to ensure that the consumer is committed to the plan and that they understand the consequences of not following through.

By focusing on these aspects of a call, a collector learns there is more going on during a collection call than dispute resolution.   Understanding when and how to apply soft skills to a collection call has been a struggle for collections organizations for years.  This issue can be solved by taking advantage of “The Collection Equation.”

Businesses often take the time and invest the dollars for seminars that cover topics such as persuasion, negotiations, etc. but then struggle to effectively implement the principles in the everyday collection call.  Instead of collectors learning the general skill of professionalism, they can learn that skill in the context of a collection call.   Collectors find more success because they learn the skill and can identify when it is most likely going to be used in what they do every day.  The Collection Equation can give the framework collectors need to better utilize the training they receive and it serves as a modern methodology that is as sophisticated and flexible as many modern consumers..

Those 13 original planes ordered by the US Military registered 1.8 million miles with no serious issues. The army later ordered thousands of the newly designated B-17 Bombers without any major design changes.  Like those pilots, collectors don’t need an entirely new system to be successful they just need a new framework to operate with.


Jason Houston is an Associate Partner at The Intelitech Group, a business management and debt recovery consulting company.  Houston has had the opportunity to consult, learn from, and work with numerous industry leaders in improving collector and supervisor performance through various tools and techniques.  Houston has spent numerous hours onsite with collection professionals teaching successful coach and collector principals through implementing the training programs and tools of Intelitech.

Brett Sivits is also one of the consultants for The Intelitech Group. Sivits works with clients in all areas of the accounts receivable industry from technology adoption, scoring/data, operational analysis, and social media strategies. He also is dedicated to working to improve the education and support that frontline collectors and their coaches receive.

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