My Thoughts From The NARCA Conference

Well as always after a major conference I recap MY experiences and share them with you. Well the Spring 2017 edition started with a great reception on Wednesday night in Orlando Fl. The JW Marriott is a great hotel though it is quite pricey. It seems as most of the attendees were staying on the property which always makes for a better conference as the people you want to talk to are more available.

The bar was hopping when I arrived at 5PM on Wednesday straight from Montego Bay, Jamaica. I flew into the Orlando airport at 3:30Pm and was at the Marriott at 5PM ready for a drink. Thats when the high prices became apparent as my drink was $17. The bar was packed with NARCA attendees all talking loudly, well dressed and ready for the conference to officially begin at 6Pm with the Cocktail reception. As I looked around the room I realized that there were a lot of new lawyer looking people in attendance. New people in the debt collection industry in 2017 I ask myself, yes was my answer as most of the newbies looked to be young. Another glance and most of the old guard were also there but sitting and not so loud. I saw old friends and past clients like Sam Tuchman, Brian Williams, Richard Alpin, Ron Canter, Fred Daniels, Juan Andreau, Andy Hall and so many more.

So I began to mingle and listen to find out what everyones attitude was like, in past years it has ben about of doom and gloom. As I spoke to the old guard, the only ones I know, as I guess I’am the old guard also I learned that the attitude was upbeat. Client meetings which had started earlier in the day had went well and that can set the tone for the conference in many ways.

Next I headed to the Exhibitor hall and was impressed with its size and layout. About 50+ vendors were in attendance and though there were a few new vendors most were the old guard as well. My friends at Quantrax had bought me a badge so I first headed to meet with Mark and see the new booth. Quantrax had a nice location and the new booth was much better than the old one. I proceeded to view all the booths and nothing stood out it was payment providers, software vendors, asset location and process servers just like every NARCA Conference.

As the food and alcohol began to flow it was apparent that the quality of food was high, in fact much higher than the previous 5 or 6 NARCA events. I attribute most of this to the Conference location, the JW Marriott was expensive for a reason, it was really good. The food was noticed by everyone and most were making it dinner not just a snack. This was also good for networking as attendees stayed in the hall and mingled till the very end. I was exhausted after international travel and went back to my room for some well needed rest.

Day 2 started with Starbucks and lots of work to catch up for me. At 8AM the exhibit hall opened and breakfast was served, once again great food. So I got coffee and occupied a table and proceeded to do some work. As I did I listed to the attendees and booth personal around me and everyone was having a “good show”. The booths seemed to be getting great traffic except for the 5th row by the wall and the flow did not ever get to them. They did put the seafood on that side to create some flow but that side got much less traffic.

As the day progressed and I spoke with more and more people and saw the attitude was positive and there were no big topics as in recent conferences. The younger attendees seemed to be setting the mood and they are all hopeful and jolly. The old guard was still very guarded in their attitude and their conversations. They are hopeful as well but much less likely to say its getting better.

The attendees did seem interested in new technology as several were coming by the Quantrax booth and asking about the product. I was also talking with Missy and John at the Microbilt booth and saw many people looking for technology solutions there as well. Many people ask me about my new operations in Jamaica which was very good as it proves that my blogs are still very powerful and well read.

Overall I would say it was a “good show”.

Naked Is The Best Disguise For The Collection Industry

The collection industry has always had a bad reputation and in the beginning it was well deserved in my opinion. In one of my interviews I spoke with Harvey Vengroff about the early days here is an excerpt from that interview in 2013.

Next he told a story about work releases from the local jail and hiring thugs to collect the receivables, working off 3X5 cards and of hiring ranked boxers and former “FBI Most Wanted “as staff.  Harvey smiles as he remembers this period.  “As things change you adapt, it is not nearly as much fun now as it was then.   I was 21-22 years old and I had a bunch of tough guys working for me.  It was fun to hit people and get paid for it, now you have to do things according to a set of rules.”  He sighed after that statement as if the memory was fond to him.

Read the whole interview here  

Harvey was just being honest and now his company is well known for compliance. But now that the 1950’s is long behind the industry and its been over 40 years since the FDCPA was written whats the reputation of the industry look like today? Horrible! What are you doing to change that?

I think part of the problem is exactly that, we are not doing enough to create good press and deal with the bad press. I understand why, the press is consumer facing and they will always take the side of the masses. I have a close friend in the industry who did an interview for the press and tried to relay a clear message to the interviewer but when the article was published it was full of just the points that a consumer would want to hear or expect to hear, the message was gone. This is another reason we need to create positive press.

The answer is not to hide but come out and been seen. If we show ourselves as an industry like a naked person does in a nudest camp maybe we can also see our faults and opportunities to be more consumer centric. So how do we create positive press? It’s right in front of you, its all the consumers you deal with daily that are happy with your service but do not post a positive review because you did not ask them to.

Yes I am proposing that you ask debtors to post a review of your service. CRAZY HUH!

And you should also answer all the negative posts and try to mitigate the bad review or get it deleted. Yes I am saying contact the debtor and try to resolve the complaint. Even if that complaint was sent to www.pissedconsumer.com or www.ripoffreport.com or a site that does not require an answer, unlike the BBB or the CFPB. You need to address all complaints in real time on every complaint website on the web. Now your asking how the heck your going to do that, read on my friend.

Online reputation management is not new but it is new to debt collections, here is how it works. Lighthouse Consulting aggregates your good and bad consumer reviews from over 100 websites like Facebook, BBB, Twitter, Pissed Consumer and Google so your company can easily monitor what your customers are saying about you — in real-time!

You can hear every word stated about your business on Social media. Lighthouse Reputation Beacon is a service that automatically sends a review request to your company or the CEO’s cell phone, scoring new reviews for your business directly on Google and Facebook. Imagine a collection agency asking for consumer reviews, thats new! It will make your agency stand out.

Google your company right now, I’ll wait…… and if its indexed by google you’ll see google reviews which you can click on and see whats posted about your company. Most of you have never done this.

Lighthouse Reputation Beacon aggregates your reviews from top review sites. See what consumers are saying about your agency or law firm, in real-time.

With Lighthouse Reputation Beacon, your business can manage negative reviews with easy-to-use tools to address customer feedback quickly.  Your companies great reviews are collected from major sites are indexed by search engines for higher search ranking.

Price is so cheap you’ll say yes with little thought, call me 904-687-1687.

Watch a video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soA49gtakZQ  or Contact Phillip W. Duff at phil@lighthouseconsultinginc.com for more info

Self pay healthcare accounts should be self pay collection accounts. Your how to guide to self cure.

As the world of collections changes and healthcare has taken over as the primary business line over credit cards the way we do collections has changed also. Self Pay healthcare is defined as “Selfpaying is a term used to describe someone who choose to pay for their treatment directly rather than using private health insurance. It is an option if you don’t want to pay a monthly premium, have a chronic or pre-existing condition or fall within an insurer’s list of exclusions.” Here is your 3 step guide to make those accounts “self cure”.

Self cure is defined by me as “communication channels that allow the consumer to pay or cure their debt online or by use of an IVR.” So how do we get the self pay patients to self cure? Here are three steps to drive payments to those self cure channels.

The first step is to get the technology in place. You will need a great payment site and an IVR tree. Not just any old technology, not the cheapest pay site either. You need the site to be very easy to use and to drive the consumer to make that payment now. This site must be easy to authenticate as well as easy to navigate. The site should collect opt ins and provide all the proper compliance. But most of all the site needs to drive the consumer to pay.

An IVR needs to be in place for the consumers who are less tech savvy or just prefer to use the phone. This system also needs to be easy to use and provide all the opt ins and compliance as well.

Step two is to drive the consumer to the technology. This can be done from several channels such as letters, phone calls, text messaging, emails and more. Just because you have the technology in place does not insure success as you must get the consumer to interact with the technology to get paid. How you use the channels to drive that interaction is very important. The message must be clear and the channel must be open and easy to navigate. This is where most companies fail. They think that just because they put the pay site URL on their letters thats all they need to do. Wrong! This is now direct marketing not debt collection, the message needs to be clear and friendly, like a Billy Mays ad for Oxi Clean.

The last step is to keep improving the channels and technology. In order to do this you will need lots more technology to track the current technology. Google Analytics will help but you will need to be able to attribute each online payment to a particular channel. Did Jane Doe pay her bill online because of the letter she received, the email, the voice mail drop or was it from your hold music at the 800 number after-hours?

As you can begin to see trends in consumer behaviors to your channels you can do some A/B testing with slightly different messages to see what is most effective.

So the conclusion is you need the best technology and the best channels to be the best at self cure. Since you have just one chance at this call an expert to help you get it set up. Lighthouse Consulting has worked with many companies to set up self cure programs, we know more about this subject and the technology that anyone. Give us a call to get some guidance when setting up or improving your self cure process.

Are you brainwashing your staff to fail?

As a consultant to the debt collection industry I get to see many different companies and law firms do this business and it amazes me just how many owners/managers are hindering their staffs growth. The limits of any group are created by the person at the top and often that person has created a ceiling that he/she cannot pierce. How do you break this cycle? ,

The problem lies in the fact that all your insecurities are displayed on your staff, 10 fold. They look up to you but they see that you have created boundaries for yourself and the company and just like they try to emulate your good points they also emulate your bad points, in spades. So here are three things you can do to break the ceiling.

First you must open your mind to everything. You create a ceiling so that you don’t get wet, so there is a feeling of comfort because you are staying in your comfort zone. If you go past that ceiling you will be in new space with unknown consequences. You have to be like Capt. James T. Kirk from Star Trek and “Boldly go where no man has gone before”.

You must find ways to open your mind to new ideas and then to not just discount them because they are outside of the ceiling and might get you wet. Your mind will play tricks on you unless you make efforts to change the way it controls you. You will need new ways to get ideas and vet them. I suggest using a consultant or industry expert to guide you until you have gotten used to getting wet.

The second thing you must do is express your newfound beliefs to the staff. You must find ways to change the perception that there is a ceiling and that those boundaries define the options. It may take a consultant to help you change that culture but once it is changed the company will be positioned to pass the ceiling.

A great resource for you to try new things will be your current staff, once they see that you have changed your tune they will begin to be creative themselves and will be able to see many more opportunities for improvement than they did underneath the ceiling. Now you must create opportunities for the staff to express their new found freedoms, set up workshops with he staff to explore and create those new ideas.

Try this, pick one person from each department (not the managers) and ask them to work together to answer this question. “If we had to do this job and 1/2 of the consumers were deaf and the other 1/2 were blind how would we have to change our processes?” This will force the team to think “outside the box” or “without a ceiling”. Its a simple exercise but you might be surprised in some of the ideas that actually make sense in the real world of consumer behavior. Hell, most of the consumers might as well be deaf and blind based on their behaviors, LOL.

Lastly you must not let it happen again. This is likely the hardest part as your natural impulse is to create that ceiling so that you feel comfortable. As you perform the exercises above you will remember why you are doing them and the intended purpose but when a new opportunity arises you will automatically create the ceiling and not even consider trey opportunity as possible. It will take time to see that the ceiling is the problem and to change your unconscious behavior.

I have made a living helping people like you overcome these ceilings, call me if you need guidance

Knowledge is like manure. It’s no good unless it’s spread around.

As a consultant and thought leader in the debt collection industry, I spread lots of manure I mean knowledge around the industry. But just like manure helps many plants to grow and flourish, so does knowledge in the collection industry. Does your company need some fertilizer?

As a consultant to the ARM industry, it amazes me just how few companies are looking for more knowledge. Most are just in survival mode; whether the industry is strong or weak, but there has always been enough companies looking to get better that I have remained busy for the last 17 years. Still, it amazes me that there are not a dozen other companies like Lighthouse Consulting offering the same services that I do. Do you want to know why?

It’s because of the type person who is drawn to debt collections is not a person who takes advice well. In most cases I am called when the owner or operator has reached the limits of their management capabilities. They call me to get past an issue or set of problems, but really do not want to be told what to do. So over the years I have learned that the hard part of consulting is not the solutions I present, it’s the way in which I present those solutions to the owner/operator that that determines how they will accept or reject my recommendations.

So I have learned how to get the buy-in from management and staff to get the changes not only implemented but embraced by the entire team. Changes that are not embraced, never become effectively implemented, and therefore have no positive  or lasting impact on the organization. I am hired to make an impact, and changes in operations, strategies, policies and procedures are at the heart of all the consulting I do. So I have learned to educate the client instead of tell them what to do.

Educating my clients is the core of what consulting is to me. I do not always just tell the client what they should do I lead them to the water and hope they get thirsty. If you want to help your company to grow, then invest the time to educate your team and then foster an environment to spread the knowledge within the organization and to each individual. If you need more knowledge to spread around, call Lighthouse Consulting.

4 Things I Find In My Consulting Practice In Almost Every Engagement.

As a consultant I find the same 4 things are lacking or missing at almost every engagement.

  1. 1. Training and development programs and scorecards
  2. 2. Automation of processes
  3. 3. Clear communication from management to staff of goals
  4. 4.The right people in the right jobs

These things seem to be lacking or non existent in most organizations, so how do I suggest they do business, read on.

POST: As a consultant I find the same 5 things are lacking or missing at almost every engagement. It has been a blessing for me as a consultant as it has given me infinite opportunity to build programs that overcome theses deficiencies.

TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT

When I entered the debt collection industry in 1979 training was the most important thing emphasized by management. In fact the job I applied for was not title debt collector it was entitled “management trainee”. The company made every effort to make sure every employee was able to move up the ladder with promotions. As you moved into management the biggest emphasis was in training a replacement for yourself so you can move up.

Training and development plans seem to have lost the war with the annual budget. you do not have a trainer much less a superior training program. Between 2000 and 2007 the industry quit training and instead created a bunch order takers. Times were good, collections were high and the need for a highly trained staff just didn’t seem to make sense. In 2007 the very best US trainers left the country headed to India where they have a desire to learn. Many of those traders are still there.

Most US call centers have not gotten back to a training mentality to date. The use of a scorecard for every staff member helps to identify deficiencies and training opportunities. The only way to develop a team is to understand their deficiencies and create training programs to combat them.

AUTOMATION OF PROCESS

I find that most collection agencies and especially law firms prefer to do many tasks manually. In many cases they know that the task could be performed in an automated fashion but they just resist the change as they are afraid of their software. Yes afraid of the cost, the hassle the time and money.

By showing them how to embrace their systems and in some cases adding systems to get the job done they are able to get tasks performed in a error free environment.

CLEAR COMMUNICATION

Most owners and CEO’s think that everyone is on the same page as they are but seldom is that the case. Type A people tend to think the word is either following along or already on board with their ideas. Therefore they do not make an effort to share their goals, direction and thoughts.

Simple things like a mission statement printed and framed can help this. Company newsletters and town meetings also help drive engagement from the top down. I have help to set up these types of communication in many engagements and the results are tremendous. The staff are glad to understand the direction of the company and the CEO now knows that the company is all headed the same direction, together!

STAFFING

One the main reasons I have to do an onsite evaluation of new consulting clients is to evaluate the staff and management. If I just ask questions online and sent solutions it would not work as the people getting the blueprint may not have the skills to enact the plan. The plan has to be customized to fit their skill sets.

Often I find that staff that is considered as under performing is just in the wrong job or has not been properly trained. Often I find management that is underperforming and being over paid. All of these are opportunities to help the company to make improvements and increase profits.

If you think that one or all of these things exist in your operation the next step is to pick up the phone and talk with me free of charge to see if I might be able to help you increase profits and improve strategies. Phillip w. Duff CEO Lighthouse Consulting 904-687-1687

Listen long enough and you will hear a solution

Owners and managers of Collection agencies are just like the collectors that work for them and in most cases they got it honestly. They just don’t listen. When I do collector training 50% of the training is listening skills I teach the collector to listen long enough to get some offer of payment. Owners and managers who probably started as debt collectors have similar issues regarding improvements to the collection process.

As a consultant I am constantly sending emails like this or writing blogs that provide Solutions or at least hint at the solutions to today’s problems in the ARM industry. But just like the collector that doesn’t listen long enough to get a commitment of payment which will start the negotiation process the owners think they already have all the answers and turn their minds off two other solutions. When I started consulting 15 years ago I worried that finding better solutions would be difficult I quickly learned that what is difficult is getting the persons by-in to a new process. Most people do not like change and therefore just ignore improvements.

The face of the debt collection industry it Is changing and becoming much more electronic. As this change occurs everyone in the industry must embrace those changes and be willing to make the proper improvements. As we move to a self cure collection strategy how we use our live agents becomes even more important. More and more consumers will choose to self cure as the electronic options become more consumer friendly and available. Self cure liquidation rates will only be driven by the strategies used to drive consumers to that website or IVR. Once the consumer is logged in to your payment portal only the strength of your portal Will collect the bill.

The biggest gains in liquidation rates Will be driven by the inbound and outbound call strategies. As the self cure options reduce the number of inbound and outbound calls the quality of those calls becomes more important exponentially. Owners need to listen to experts like myself who are able to provide solutions that can blend self cure with call strategies that maximize both the timing of the contact, the type of contact and the strategy behind that contact method.

Emails, Texting, IVR’s, Manual calls, Letters, Payment sites and inbound calls all need to be blended not only for a effectiveness but also for compliance. As we move to a multichannel collection process including all of the methods listed above we will need to track Communications not only for compliance, Best practices and the results we will also need to understand what drove the consumer to pay. Was it the letter that drove them to the payment site, or was it the message they heard while on hold at your call center? We need to be able to track all of those consumer interactions to be able to create best practices.

If you ever heard what I am saying and you are ready to hear more I would love to talk to you. Please call me at 904-687-1687 to discuss.

Phillip W. Duff

CEO Lighthouse Consulting

Is Your Payment Website going To Penalized By Google?

Google wants the web to be traveling over a secure channel. That’s why in the future your Chrome browser will flag unencrypted websites as insecure, displaying a red “x” over a padlock in the URL bar. If your payment site is not secure your site can be labeled as non-secure by Google and this could stop your revenue stream.

Lighthouse Consulting provides marketing services to many companies in the ARM industry and we have many programs to make sure your technology is advanced and able to handle todays consumer actions with ease and securely. This is why we felt it important to notify the rest of the industry as we now most of you have no idea of these types of changes till they have been impacted by the changes.

With this upcoming change in Chrome, Google makes it clear that the web of the future should all be encrypted, and all sites should be served over HTTPS, which is essentially a secure layer on top of the usual HTTP web protocol.

Starting in January with Chrome 56, password or credit card form fields on non-encrypted sites will be labeled “not secure.”

In following releases, those warnings will be extended by labeling HTTP pages as “not secure” in Incognito mode, where users may have higher expectations of privacy.

Eventually, all HTTP pages will be labeled non-secure, and the HTTP security indicator will change to the red triangle/exclamation mark that Google uses for broken HTTPS.

If your current website host or marketing team needs a professional edition then call Lighthouse Consulting today and ask for Phillip W.Duff at 904-687-1687 X 101.

Hey Phillip, How do I become successful in the collections field? This was a recent question posed to me recently.

Years ago that was easy for me  to answer and hard to do, now its hard to answer and even harder to do. But there is a clear path to success in 2017 in the debt collection industry its just a big wide, steep road with lots of pot holes that can swallow your whole company so pick the correct lane and do not just follow the car in front of you.

So as a consultant to the ARM industry people ask me often why I do not open my own collection practice and the simple answer is people. Managing people is the biggest problem of every client I have ever had with more than 2 people. But I do believe I have the blueprint to  be successful in 2017 in the ARM industry as a collection agent.

The first thing imperative to success is the people, second is the technology and lastly is the consumer experience. Yes, the debtors experience dealing with your agency or law firm is very important these days.

The People

The staff in a collection operation are very important even though in most cases they are not highly paid. The staff that are actually talking to the consumers are task with producing all the revenue in the old collection strategy. A company of 20 had 12 collectors who had to generate all the revenue to pay the 20 staff, overhead, vendors and the owners profits.

In a newer strategy the collection staff are still burdened with producing most of the revenue but now there is a silent collector who ask for no wages, the payment website. (More about this in Technology)

The collection staff are also task with compliance which is a big task these days one that technology can help immensely. But the support staff are very important in the new and old strategies as every dollar spent by the support staff must be recovered 5 fold by the collection staff and technology.

The biggest problem I see with companies is a lack of training and development programs by the company. The second biggest problem is a person with a golden umbrella within the organization. This can fall into two categories 1) the person is a relative, friend or some connection that the owner refuses see all the faults in and even when confronted with the damage they create still refuses to even discipline the person, much less fire them. 2) Or is a person who is making much too much money due to the length of service to the company. This is stopping the company from hiring 3 new hires, or buying new technology, or just making money.

All the above equal people problems.

The Technology

This is now the new compliance officer and the silent non commissioned collector. If you have a modern software package you should be using it to create compliance by only showing accounts to staff when it is proper to call them, to count contacts, limit letters, to create automation of many tasks and much more. Technology from collection software to your IVR all all now very important to the multichannel collection strategy required in todays electronic world.

You must be sending emails, texts, voice mail drops, calling, letters, IVR and pushing the consumer to self cure at your payment site with every channel. So technology becomes the 24/7 collector as the pay site gathers revenue at Midnight and beyond.

The Consumer Experience

This is a part of the business that is overlooked or over focused in recent years. This includes both the clients experience and the debtors experience dealing with you. As you see from the technology section we are trying to drive that consumer to self cure at our payment site so that consumer experience is very important. You must build a comprehensive pay site that is easy to authenticate for the consumer and then easy to navigate to payment, usually a <6 click navigation.

Also the tone and look of the letters, pay site, voice mails, callers, company website and emails have to create a positive consumer experience.

If you can get the right people, working the right technology and creating the right consumer experience you will succeed in the ARM industry, if you need a guide please call me.

I Wish I Knew How To ———

Do you ever say this to yourself? Being the leader of a ARM company these days is a challenge and most great leaders look to others for advice. How are you getting your advice?

Presidents have cabinet members, pilots have co-pilots and air traffic controllers, doctors consult other doctors and in fact most hi stress positions have assistants or advisors. As a leader of a ARM company where are you getting your advice from?

First lets answer a more important question; what kind of advise do we need and who would be best positioned to have that knowledge and lend that advise? Well in the debt collection business the main questions seem to relate to either compliance, profits, technology, business development or staff development. So that means you need a very rounded and connected person to advise you on these topics. This is the power of Lighthouse Consulting and Phillip W. Duff it’s CEO, he knows the answers!

Lighthouse Consulting works with debt collection agencies, creditors, law firms, first party, early out, third party, debt buyers and debt settlement companies daily. The knowledge obtained by this diverse business is what we are selling and what our clients need most, solid advice. We have seen hundreds of ways to do the same task and we have learned what works and what does not. Often the answers are easy to describe but achieving the tasks seem unobtainable until someone says have you tried this?

Lighthouse has been providing its clients advice since 2001 and we can provide lots of references but here is a sample.

Phil has impressed me with his ability to listen to concerns and find a solution. His unique approach gets the desired result accomplished with effectiveness. Phil Stenger, Esq. 

We no longer waste time and money wondering what we are missing. There is a greater comfort level, increased excitement amongst our staff and a genuine sense of greater things to come. James B. Atkins, Esq.

Phil has the ability to understand a collection process, see its value and suggest an improved version of the process that can be more productive. Stuart Wolpoff

At Lighthouse Consulting we have seen and fixed every problem known to the ARM industry so why not take advantage of that history and knowledge. For more info on our services and costs call Phillip W. Duff at 904-687-1687 X 101