Mar 29, 2013 Philip Burgess
When it comes to media portrayals, the debt collection industry isn't one of the most favorably viewed. While some of the ire related to the realm stems from negativity from the press, some of the skepticism regarding the sector's alignments are warranted. Some consumers have had genuinely upsetting interactions with agencies, but many times these incidents are related to companies that do not follow best practices. It is crucial for the debt collection industry to work to reduce the number of employees that may violate laws, as this will likely benefit those firms that are already doing their jobs well.
Real talk from a real professional
Recently, Oregon went through some difficulties reigning in illegal debt collection practices. According to KTVZ-TV, many state residents were receiving threatening collection calls from a Virginia Beach-based company. Because of the agencies' abusive tactics, the Oregon Department of Justice was forced to take action, ultimately signing a settlement banning the firm from doing business in Oregon for the next three years and requiring it to pay $2,500 into the department's Protection and Education Fund.
One Oregon debt collection professional, Tim Mabry, spoke with the Portland Business Journal about the less than favorable image the industry has become associated with in light of the conflict. Mabry is the president and owner of collection agency Credits Inc., and he also serves as an officer of the The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals. In the last year, Mabry's firm had one complaint filed against it.
Mabry told the Journal that he acknowledges that the collection sector is sometimes seen in a negative light, but that there are many companies working to overcome these portrayals and help debtors get their lives back on track.
"It's been a continual struggle," Mabry told the source. "We view ourselves as pro-consumer. We try to collect in a nice way and in a professional way. It's a business. We don't think the people we deal with on a daily basis are bad people."
While Mabry was confident that there are many good people in the industry, he pointed to problems like those Oregon recently went through as a potential point of improvement. Weeding out businesses that engage in unlawful practices should be important to debt collectors. However, he wasn't sure how this should be done. He emphasized that, for Credits Inc., it starts with bringing in employees that are customer service-savvy above all else, and who are able to recognize that abuse is not productive when it comes to achieving payments. Most individuals, he told the source, want to get out of debt.
If collectors recognize consumers' general desire to comply when possible, instead of assuming they will be met with resistance, they may be able to experience success on more than one front. They will be able to satisfy their managers and clients by collecting on overdue bills at the same time as relieving consumers of the negative impacts of living in debt.
Positive interactions with clients may also help the collection industry reclaim its reputation. The Federal Trade Commission recorded debt collection as the No. 2 source of filed complaints in 2012, making up 10 percent of these claims. Only identity theft ranked higher on the list at 18 percent.
While it may take more effort at first to hire the best possible employees with excellent customer service skills, it may be well worth it in the end. As individuals increasingly find themselves on the receiving end of kindness and respect from collection agencies, the public perception of the industry will slowly change. And this can only be a good thing.