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

Jamacian Call Center News

One of the services provided by Lighthouse Consulting is near shore call center management, consulting and agency set up, particularly on the island of Jamaica. So in order to better educate my US call center operators I will start providing information about call centers that are involved in debt collection, debt settlement or other ARM services in Jamaica.

an overturned boat on the beach in the Caribbean. Boat is painted "Rasta" colors.

an overturned boat on the beach in the Caribbean. Boat is painted “Rasta” colors.

Let’s start by giving you some information. Jamaica is a major call center destination receiving and making calls around the world to English-speaking countries. Call centers handle everything from Pizza delivery orders in Montréal, Medicaid healthcare products sales, Cable TV sales, debt collection and many other projects. There are tens of thousands of trained call center workers in Montego Bay and Kingston. Vistaprint has they’re only worldwide call center in Montego Bay and is one of the major employers of the city. Delta, Fingerhut, American Airlines, Insurance companies and many more all use call centers on the island.

I first came to the island as an auditor for collection accounts that were placed in there with Alliance One in 2000. So as you can see the island has a long history of debt collection. In future articles I will provide information on some of the call centers that currently exist on the island and how they may Bring value to your debt collection operation. With the average wages for a trained bill collector in Jamaica equaling half that of the US and similar results, the ROI is easy to caculate.

Reasons to use a Call Center in Jamaica

English is the primary language 

Accents are mild and pleasant

Jamaica is a call center hub

Favorable wages 

ROI is high VS USA staff

Close to manage (1 hour flight from Miami, 2 hour flight from D.C.)

Work lower unit yield accounts at a profit

Data entry and admin functions

Insurance reps

Transfer agents

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“¡Me pica qué, me rasca aquí! Translated “It itches me here, but you are scratching me there.”

The Quote above is from Judge Million of People’s Court. In the court case, the judge quoted this Cuban phrase, describing a defendant’s avoidance in answering her question, by answering a different question.

judge-milian-photos-i18

Question avoidance, intentionally or unintentionally, is a common issue in the debt collection process. The agent is seeking specific information that will help him or her collect the debt. Yet they ask a question that leaves the door open for a variety of answers. The individual on the other end of the line ends up providing useless data to the agent.

A debt collection call is much like the job interview process. Many common questions are looking for specific answers, even though the question is vague. For example, it is common to ask an interviewee to, “tell me about yourself.” The manager wants specific work history that relates to the job in question, helping the interviewer to evaluate their work experience. If the applicant responds with places they have lived and their growing up years, this information does not provide valuable insight regarding the type of employee they are. Employers are fortunate that most job applicants understand the questions intent and give the manager what they want, even when questions are obscure.

The collection industry does not work with customers educated in the debt collection process. Consumers require more guidance and handholding, in the form of the right questions. Customers are not typically experienced with the debt collection process, and may be hesitant to cooperate because they don’t want information they provide used against them.

It is the agent’s job to ask quality questions that provide clear guidance on the information they need, and this comes with proper training. Staff training is essential to your business because the agents must remain compliant with regulations, obtain valuable information about the consumer’s financial situation, and bring them into an agreement on a payment arrangement. Those are not the skills of a rookie.

In order to avoid the situation faced by Judge Million, agents must have the grace of a Gazelle with the questioning skills of a lawyer. They must lead the consumer to the conclusion that the agent will help them pay off the debt within their financial constraints and move the collection process forward. Lawyers much like debt collectors must phrase each sentence in a specific manner to increase the likelihood of gathering useful information.

Lighthouse Consulting has almost two decades of experience working with companies just like yours. Their industry experience can train your staff to quickly and efficiently obtain the information required to collect on the debt.

Contact us today to learn how we can increase the efficiency of your staff through proper training.

Do Not Utter The “F” Word

Debt collection is a high stakes game centered around high emotions on both sides.

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The trouble is, when emotions get out of hand, you lose control of the debt collection process.

Always remember Failure is not an option. Uttering the “F” word in this industry spells trouble for your business. However, success is dependent on finding creative solutions that address the many industry issues companies face.

When emotions get high self preservation kicks in quickly, creating defensiveness and instincts resembling the fight or flight response to danger. Consumers are keen to preserve income by failing to pay, and debt collectors must extract payments to stay in business. Compromise and cooperation can be hard to come by, with so much at stake.

Collection agencies are in a tough business right now. We face issues created by regulations, which largely favor the consumer. We face issues created by the debtors, who refuse to pay their obligations or follow through with payment agreements. We face issues created internally by staff or infrastructure. To succeed in this environment companies must refuse to accept Failure as not an option and find innovative ways to succeed.

As a consultant in the industry for the last two decades, I have seen a major industry shift in compliance making it more difficult and expensive to operate your business. The result is the cream rising to the top. The very best collection agencies and law firms are spending the time and money to ensure failure does not occur. They are finding success by aligning with vendors specializing in the industry, improving training for staff, hiring industry consultants who understand the challenges you face, and improving their procedures and processes. The cream rising to the top will lead the collection industry for decades to come.

As a consultant in the debt collection industry, I see both sides of the fence. On the one side are aggressive agencies seeking out improvements, training, automation and better processes. On the other side are agencies doing just the minimum to get by, hoping the regulatory environment will change before they have to spend the money on upgrades. It is very obvious to an industry veteran, like myself, which strategies are the most successful.

Most owners and managers are burdened with daily operations tasks to keep the agency or law firm profitable and in compliance. They do not have the time to investigate the necessary improvements required to maximize efficiency and stay on top of new compliance rules. This reactionary response is more expensive in the long run than taking a proactive approach to legislative changes. As CFPB enforcement increases, it makes more sense than ever to hire an outside consultant to provide innovative solutions for your agency or firm. Changes in both compliance and technology are creating both roadblocks and opportunities for those on the leading edge. Identifying which is essential to an agencies success.

Lighthouse Consulting has been a beacon of knowledge in the debt collection industry for almost 20 years. If you are looking for reliable advice and an intimate understanding of your needs, contact Lighthouse Consulting for information on our services.

My Recap of the Denver ACA Conference 2016 and Comic Con 2016

The 2016 ACA conference in Denver was refreshing, to say the least. It was apparent from the moment I arrived that this was going to be a different conference. Not only was it an educational event full of enthusiasm, but the week also coincided with Comic-Con and Denver gay pride week. The city was lively with activities and fun events, creating many memorable moments.

Even though the Costumes from Comic Con were very distracting, (not to mention FUN), my biggest takeaway from the ACA conference, is that the industry is alive again.

27674227832_85dde03242_bOver the last few years, with all of the compliance issues and a decline in placements, the industry has experienced a theme of doom and gloom. This year, Denver’s conference reflected an optimism and upbeat attitude towards the future. Companies were anxious to find solutions that would stimulate growth and a bright future for industry leaders.

Compliance, which was the main topic over the last few years at ACA, DBA, and NARCA, was a secondary topic, rather than the primary focus. It seems the industry has gotten used to dealing with the compliance issues of today’s collection environment and are now looking for ways to perform business at a higher level that still produce acceptable profit margins.

The decision-makers I met with were looking for technological and operational improvements for their collection agencies or law firms, rather than just moaning and complaining about the increase in regulation. It appears the mourning period is over, and now we are ready to morph into a new life. Companies are focused on opportunities for automation, process flow improvements, more profitable vendors, and advances in technology opportunities that can improve their bottom line.

Vendors like Vo Apps have been around for many years and are now getting traction as the industry is ready to try something new.

There was a lot of buzz at the conference regarding the merger of Columbia Ultimate and Ontario Systems. The two vendors set up booths next to each other and took advantage of all the questions and interest regarding the recent merger acquisition. I expect it to take a year or before we will fully understand the direction of the new company.

There was a smaller number of vendors in the exhibit hall, but that has been a trend at each of the conferences in the last three years. Several new vendors to the industry were represented, and a few from the old guard were noticeably missing. Based on the vendor selection custom programming, contact management, data append, and software development made up the bulk of the service providers.

Overall, I believe the industry has turned the corner and is looking forward instead of backwards or just looking down at their feet. Even though the industry is very challenged by compliance and a lack of placements, it appears that providers who are forward thinking will lead the industry for many years to come.

To learn more about my thoughts or recommendations going forward, or if you just want Comic-Con photos, please give me a call at 904-687-1687 X 111.

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