Collector - August 2017 - 10
What to do when a consumer asks
a question you can't answer.
By Anne Rosso May
rom an employer's point of view,
debt collectors are expected to
know a lot about the debt collection
process. From a consumer's point of view,
however, debt collectors are expected to
know everything-everything about the
debt collection process as well as everything
about the creditor, the creditor's industry
and the debt in question-plus the entire
financial services arena to boot.
This is a tall order, and there will be times
when you simply won't know the answer to
a consumer's question. Here are a few tips to
help make those situations less awkward and
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
First, even if you don't immediately have
the information the consumer wants, you
should continue to speak positively and
confidently. Nothing derails a conversation
faster than a debt collector who is stuttering
and stammering, clearly at a loss for words.
Consumers are relying on you to supply
credible information to help them out of
their financial pickle. They are often stressed
out, and they expect you to be a calm,
CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY
You say, "I don't know." The consumer
hears, "I can't help you."
When the consumer asks a question and
you don't know the answer, avoid the "I'm
not sure" and "That's not my department"
dead-ends. Keep the focus on what you can
do rather than what you can't. Try saying:
"That's a great question. I can find the answer
for you." Or: "Yes, I'd be happy to research
that for you."
You could also try rephrasing the
consumer's question so that you can answer
it. Sometimes this shift in perspective is all it
takes to solve the problem.
No matter what, if you don't know the
answer don't speculate or lie, even if it's
something seemingly benign like, "Most
likely" or "Makes sense to me." Doing so
may be a potential violation of federal law
and can get you and your agency in a lot of
WHEN HOLD IS THE
If you do have to look up an answer or
transfer the consumer to a supervisor, make
the process as painless as possible. Don't
interrupt the consumer to announce the
hold or transfer, don't do it more than once
per call and always let the consumer know
You could try saying: "What I'm going
to do is speak to my supervisor to get the
information you asked for. I'll check back in a
minute if I don't get the answer immediately
to let you know what I'll do next."
When you jump back on the call after
looking up the answer, especially if you
know the consumer has been on hold for
more than 30 seconds, acknowledge how
annoying it can be to wait: "Thank you for
waiting. I know it can be frustrating when
you are on hold. I'm here to assist you now."
If you have to transfer the call to someone
else, explain why and who the consumer
will be speaking with when the transfer
goes through. It's a nice touch to ask the
consumer's permission first, too.
You might say: "I think Tom in our billing
department would be the best resource for
that question. Are you able to wait a minute
while I transfer you to him?"
And if you must disconnect the call to get
the answer-maybe your supervisor isn't
immediately available-tell the consumer
you'll get back to him within a specific
timeframe, like 24 hours. Give the consumer
your direct extension and let him know he
can call you if he doesn't hear back within
The goal here is to let consumers know
that while you may not have the information
they need at your fingertips, you are
committed to finding an answer to their
Anne Rosso May is editor of Collector