Our team at insideARM receives dozens of alerts every day pointing us to stories of interest to the ARM industry. Our inboxes are full each morning with TCPA cases, FDCPA cases, news regarding the CFPB, the FTC, and regulatory activity at the state level. We try to sort through those alerts and write articles on what is most relevant and important to our readers.

Every so often we see a story written elsewhere that cries out to be recognized in our publication and brought to the attention of the ARM industry.  This morning we saw an article published on Credit Strategy, a U.K. publication. The article, written by Amber Ainsley Pritchard, had the following headline: Collections staff frequently dealing with suicidal calls. This article should be mandatory reading for all ARM industry professionals.

The story discusses a recently published report, Vulnerability; a guide for debt collection. The report was published by the Finance and Leasing Association (FLA) and The UK Cards Association in partnership with Chris Fitch at the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre.

From the Credit Strategy article:

“The research team behind the paper surveyed around 1,600 frontline collections and specialist staff from 27 UK lenders and debt collection firms. Across a 12-month period, 657 conversations were held between frontline collections staff and customers believed to be at serious risk of suicide. The report considered these findings at scale over a single year and the number of suicide disclosures, believed to be serious, were:

    • 2-3 in a frontline collections team of 10
    • 13 in a frontline collections department of 50
    • 63 in a large call centre of 250 frontline staff
    • 125 in a multi-site firm of 500 frontline staff

The findings in the paper have been used to develop 21 practical and commercially realistic steps to be shared across the credit industry for the benefit of customers, but have also been adapted for use in sectors such as utilities, telecoms, retail and government.”

The report is 98 pages. insideARM highly recommends that senior management, all members of HR and Q&A, as well as front line managers of ARM firms study it.  The report deals with much more than suicidal calls.

The key term in the report is “vulnerable.”   For purposes of the report, a “vulnerable” person may include individuals with mental health issues, suicidal thoughts, those dealing with some type of addiction, or those dealing with a terminal illness. The report offers suggestions for identifying a “vulnerable” person and how to support staff in dealing with the vulnerable.

Companies in the ARM industry are constantly recruiting, hiring and training staff. The call center industry typically has 100% turnover on an annual basis. In today’s “compliance centric” environment, the primary focus of new hire training and ongoing training is on the laws and regulations governing our industry. Once those skills are trained and engrained, the focus may shift to the soft skills necessary to create a positive customer experience during calls. But, is the ARM industry doing enough to train and support staff on dealing with the vulnerable consumer?

Collection calls are stressful for a consumer; particularly those calls that have been initiated by the collector. There is often a huge difference in tone when comparing outbound calls to inbound calls. An outbound call to a vulnerable person may trigger a negative response by that individual. Collectors need to be trained in identifying the issue and in how to properly respond to an elevated stress situation.

Bringing greater awareness of this issue to our call center agents and properly training those agents to deal with it something the industry needs to do. Let’s tackle this issue together. 

insideARM would like to hear from the ARM industry. What steps are being taken to recognize vulnerable consumers?  How is your company training your staff to deal with vulnerable consumers? How does your Q&A and call monitoring team deal with calls that were either well-handled or poorly-handled by staff?

If we get sufficient responses we will do a follow-up article where we share best practices.  Feel free to send your thoughts to me at: tbauer@insidearm.com. This may also be a terrific topic for an upcoming insideARM webinar. Mike Bevel, insideARM Director of Education - stay tuned.

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