It’s Good To Be Crazy, It Opens Up So Many More Options

I have been called many things in my career and crazy was included. I have always looked at problems differently even when I was a child. My first job at age 15 was in a donut shop and I told the owner on the second day of my employment that he should move the machines closer together to reduce the mess on the floor and reduce lost icing which is what was all over the floor that was my job to clean. Of course he looked at me with the eyes of an adult being told what to do by a snotty nosed kid that was working for $2.25 hourly. But two weeks later he moved the equipment just as I suggested.

It was quite crazy to tell your boss how to run his business but thats what I have been doing ever since. As a consultant to the debt collection industry my job is to tell successful business owners how they can be more successful. To tell them how they can improve their processes and strategies to reduce costs and increase collections. You have to be crazy to tell a collection agency owner how he has left money on the table, how he has failed in spite of his success. Its a fine line.

But the truth is doing debt collection the way we were all taught by the masters will no longer work. The business has changed so much that just making the calls will not result in the best results. You have to have a strategy and and great technology in place.

What I find in most engagements is that the agency has the view of the technology they need but they do not have the expertise to set up the strategies. For example most agencies have realised that a self cure strategy must exist so they spent lots of time looking at online payment sites and then picked one because of some features they saw in the demo. But when they set up the technology and begin to use it they do not get the results they are looking for. The problem is in most cases the way they set up the technology. The most common mistake I see starts with the login for the debtor. Recently when looking at a new clients pay site records I noticed that 45% of the people who came to the site abandoned because they could not log in. They agency was requiring that the debtor have the account number to login and many debtors did not have the letter in front of them. Also most of the debtors were on cell phones and the site was clunky on a cell phone interface. I had them change the login to their last name and last 4 of their SSN and the abandonment rate reduced to 8% from 45%.

So todays strategies are outside the box we were taught by the masters. They also include things that the old school collectors never imagined, emails, voice mail drops, messages on hold music, text messages, social media and so much more. Creating all these stratagies to get the debtor to login and pay online are new to the industry and do not fit the methods of normal debt collection. What should the email say and not say? Is it best to dunn the debtor with an email or just lightly push them to login and explore payment options? This is where you need a professional.

I practically invented self cure and I have been helping agencies to set up the surrounding strategies that drive that debtor to the payment site. The wording and timing of emails, voice mail drops and other communications that follow a specific strategy are the most effective. I have been doing this longer than anyone so my failures have now driven my success in this field. I had to get crazy to figure the best strategies as the traditional collection tactics I was taught decades ago were not effective.

The second biggest mistake is not setting up the reporting to evaluate the strategies. If the debtor was sent a letter, received 2 phone messages and a voice mail drop which one was the strategy the made them go online and pay the balance in full? You need to know that to evaluate the strategies. Most pay sites are not connected to your system in a manner that these straggles are identified to a reporting system. I can help you cover those gaps so you can get the data.

Are you getting the best results you can from your self cure strategies? Need a tune up? Lighthouse Consulting is the answer. Just a 5% increase in online payments can mean thousands of dollars of profit more each week for most agencies.

Give Phillip w. Duff a call at 305-853-8773 for more info my services.

My Life In Jamaica And The Heat Of Summer

Well its July in the Caribbean and its hot, not as hot as it’s been in the Western US but it is hot. In Jamaica air conditioning is a luxury not a expectation. Homes here traditionally have AC units only in the bedrooms. Most locals have no AC as electricity is one of the more expensive things on the island. There are no natural resources to burn to run electric plants so Jamaica ships in natural gas from the US to run its plants.

So since my last post lots has happened and a lot more has just gotten delayed in government circles. I have been trying to get all my local docs such as a drivers licence and it is just a big circle of bureaucracy. So to get a new bank account open I needed to register with the NIS office, the National Insurance Scheme. I gathered my local friend/guide and proceeded to the NIS office to get the simple doc which I was told only required proof of your birth to get. I had had my guide go to the NIS office the Friday before to make sure what was required so as not to waste a trip. The following Tuesday we went to the office and it had moved and no-one knew where the government office had moved to. We kept asking people in Sam Sharpe square in Downtown Montego Bay where the NIS office was located a couple days earlier and got a lead as to the new offices location.

Upon arriving at the address given we found a hardware store that reminded me of a big Ace Hardware or a small Home Depot. We abandoned that search and moved on to the next thing on the list buying a TV that I will use as a computer screen at my home office. While we were there we called the NIS office and got no answer. But the guy in the store had a cousin that worked there and called her cell phone to find out that the office was really inside the hardware store from before. We proceeded back to the hardware store and located the temporary office, they are remodelling the one in Sam Sharpe Sq. but they had no phones or computers and could not help me get a NIS card, they suggested I return in a week or so. Welcome to Jamaica.

I was able to get the card in just 20 minutes while visiting Kingston the next week but the drivers license is still in the works. I am getting used to all the delays and hurdles as well as its now my expectation it will take a long time to complete anything so when something happens easily I am surprised and if it takes all day I am prepared as I blocked out the whole day and brought water and snacks.

I spent lots of time last week listening to recordings of the collectors for a particular project that is about 6 weeks into production and was very impressed with the staffs skills. They are performing very well kudos to the clients trainers that came down from the US.

Well Sumfest http://reggaesumfest.com is starting, its the biggest Reggae event in the world, 7 days of music and partying. Its based in Montego Bay so I expect lots of traffic and crazy US and Canadian tourists. Its good for the city in many ways but I like that everything is getting cleaned and painted for the event. It seems like some of these areas only get this attention annually but it really helps the look of the city. All the businesses have new signage, streets are cleaned and curbs have fresh yellow paint. This years festival is the biggest ever.

So if your following this blog your likely interested in agents in Jamaica and this blog shows how valuable my program is by guiding you through all the government hurdles and keeping your costs level even if things like the electric bill increases drastically. No matter what happens your costs are consistent with my program. Call me to learn how you can have staff and overhead in Jamaica at just $10 hourly.

Where’s the elephant hiding in your business?

When I first began helping my clients open up their collection offices in Jamaica it became apparent that that the obvious is often hidden. The problem its hidden from us by our own prejudices and things we have always been told. About a year ago a girl on the island said to me in answer to simple question something that has stuck with me and fits so many situations on the island. She stated “It’s cheaper to buy 50 paint brushes than a paint machine”.

What was meant by the statement? Well in Jamaica labor is cheaper than a machine and it does not require gas, maintenance and does not break down. As Americans involved in the debt collection business we know that the biggest line item on your P&L is labor. We have always been taught this and we believe it but the truth is “Its the Elephant hiding in your business strategies”.

hidden elephant_4ac1e49e108f3.jpg

Labor is cheap and ultra effective in Jamaica. The call centre industry is booming and has been the number two industry on the island for decades. Tourism in number one of course but Xerox, Vistaprint, AT&T and many more American call centres are based in Jamaica. There is said to be 1 call centre worker for every 10 people. The Jamaican staff that I can help you hire are very trainable unlike their US counterparts. The staff being hired in the US as collectors these days are difficult at best but you already know that.

If you own or run a collection operation in the US you should call me to discuss how you can reduce that labor line item and gain a better staff member at the same time. I can help you set up seats for as little as $10 USD per hour, per seat. That means you just need to recoup $400 in fee to pay the costs for a weeks work and facility charges. After that your in the profits on the total costs. The great thing is that for the $10, I’m including the internet connection, computer equipment, IT, HR and cubes in that cost. It is all inclusive!

Come down and look around. Let me show you other shops. Look and you will be doing business in Jamaica. Ya Mon!

Silence Is Golden And Duct Tape Is Silver

As a consultant to the debt collection industry one of my duties is to create and perform collector training classes. I have been doing this for many years and a few years ago I came to a realization which lead me to change my training.

It was hard to get collectors to embrace this new technique as it was revolutionary to them. They resisted and would revert quickly to their old habits but the first few that listened and got the concept were seeing the results in increased liquidation, more debtors would agree to pay and it reduced time on the phone and frustration.

What was the new thing that was so hard to teach collectors, SILENCE. Yes to try to teach a collector shut up and listen is not an easy task but what they will hear will change the direction of the call quickly. At times when I first started teaching listening skills I wished I could put duct tape over their mouth right after they finished the Talk off. Instead I began to teach them to use the mute button. The real trick is not to get them to push the mute button but to LISTEN.

It was listening skills I was trying to teach but collectors are hired to talk and most can talk your ear off about nothing.  So I had to first just get them to shut up so they could listen and hear. What I had learned many years ago from both my experiences and from others in industry is that if you will listen long enough the debtor will suggest a solution.

Here is what I learned, If you tell the debtor that the balance in full is due today and then hit your mute button the first thing is awkward silence, then the debtor will say he cannot pay the bill in full its impossible, then more awkward silence and the debtor says why he can’t pay “I am out of work” or “I am on disability”. This is followed by more excuses and more silence till finely the debtor says “Well I could pay you $5 a month if that helps”. OK now you have achieved the desired results and now the collector can begin to talk and negotiate an arrangement to repay the debt.

What happens is amazing as most people will follow this pattern if you can listen long enough. Remember your last statement was “The bill is due in full today” so thats starting strong. Even though the debtor is starting very low he is now ready to make arrangements and the skills of the debt collector will get the BPA or best possible arrangement.

So teach this method and try this when you hear the staff not listening go by and put 4 inches of duct tape on their cube to remind them to listen.

Silence is golden and duct tape is silver but listening is where the money comes from.

Does The Santander Supreme Court Decision Change Everything? I think so!

Ok what does the recent 9-0 Supreme court decision in Henson V Santander https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/16-349_c07d.pdf mean for the debt collection and especially the debt purchase industry? It means it could be the wild west. Does it mean that a convicted felon in N.Y. can buy a spreadsheet of debt for $5k and collect it as first party with no fear of the FDCPA and no need for licensing?

Here is how InsideArm explained the ruling “In this unanimous decision, the Court determined that Santander Consumer USA, Inc. did not fall under the plain meaning of the term “debt collector” in the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) when it purchased defaulted loans originated by another lender and proceeded to collect on these loans because it was not seeking to collect the debts “owed another”. The act of purchasing the loans meant that the debt was owed to Santander—not another entity” . https://www.insidearm.com/news/00043001-industry-association-urges-caution-when-i/

So will this change the face of debt purchase and therefore the face of debt collection? Possibly! So if your a debt buyer and you want to reduce your exposure to the FDCPA then you would have to collect the money yourself in-house. The collection agencies that have always done the work for you are now a possible FDCPA lawsuit liability. Will the third party agencies disappear and be replaced by in-house shops? Will this spur debt purchase again to be a big business? Will the Supreme Court amend the decisions to say something different or re interpret the meaning?

There are many questions and possibilities but on the face it looks like this to me based on the decision. I believe this will change the debt purchase industry by allowing it to grow. If the decision allows for someone to buy debt and collect it as first party then the need for third party agencies will diminish for the debt buyers. The debt buyers who in most cases were already increasing there in-house shops due to the no resale provision in most sale contracts, making the buyer keep the debt forever, will now build those in-house shops bigger and bigger. They will expand offices, build payment sites, buy software, increase head counts and embrace nearshore operations to reduce costs.

What will this do the average collection agency out there? Not too much because only a few agencies are dedicated to working debt buyer business, most are healthcare or banking type collection shops and these accounts will not be effected in the same way as debt buyers. Hospitals will continue to hire agencies, banks will still place the debt with agencies prior to sale. But it will have an effect on the agencies that are dependent on debt buyers for business as they lose market share to the in-house shops.

Many debt buyers will also go on with business as usual because they hold themselves and their third party agencies to standards similar to the FDCPA whether they are required to or not. The biggest debt buyers will continue to place accounts but they may increase their in-house staffing and reduce the outsourced debt volume. But look at the Square2 model which did not work well before this ruling. They had franchisees not third party agencies to collect there debt.  Now this decision makes their in-house shops first party and the franchise idea has much stronger legs.

There are many scenarios but this will have some impact and it is likely to be big in my opinion. Call me if you want to discuss this and how you can protect yourself or find opportunity in this decision.

It’s not how you skin the rabbit, it’s how the rabbits fur grows back.

Well first of all I do not suggest you try to skin a rabbit thats alive so don’t send me letters. But there some meaning in this statement like many folk sayings across the US. If you are in the debt collection industry this relates to your business like this.

The biggest change in the debt collection industry over the last few years are the strategies used to collect the money. In the past the industry had 2 clear channels to get payments from, mail and phone so they sent letters and made phone calls. Well anyone in the industry today knows that letters do not collect near the numbers that did even 10 years ago and phone calls have so many compliance issues its hard to justify making that outbound call to a debtor.

So we have created more ways or channels for the consumer to pay. We have changed how we skin the rabbit because we need a sustainable business model. The debt collection industry has adopted self cure options to allow the rabbit to skin itself. So with a website that allows the consumer to go online 24/7 and pay their bill without any human interaction has allowed the consumer to skin themselves. And if we have done a good job they will continue to enjoy the experience of self skinning and will do it again and again. The self skinning allows the consumer to grow back the fur and then come back again for a trim without all the phone calls and letters.

So now if you want to be the most successful you can be you must perfect your self cure strategies so the consumer returns or so the consumer completes the transaction. Your payment site and all leading up that first consumer log in have to all be the best strategies possible these days as you may only get one chance to get this consumer to self cure.

Lighthouse Consulting created self cure and has the industry embrace it. If your interested in how to build a best rabbit self skinner in the industry you must talk to Lighthouse Consulting. Call Phil at 904-687-1687 now.

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”.

Lighthouse Consulting Goes International

PRESS RELEASE June 1, 2017

Phillip W. Duff, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lighthouse Consulting, is pleased to announce the appointment of Karl Graham as Vice President of Caribbean Operations.

Mr. Graham has a long history of Call Center success in the United States and the Caribbean having worked in executive positions for major US Fortune 500 companies and also working in Jamaica for the last 10 years as Vice President to the Caribbean’s largest call center.

Mr. Graham will be tasked with managing call centers and creating partner relationships for the clients of Lighthouse Consulting. Mr. Phillip W. Duff the CEO of Lighthouse Consulting stated “As our clients are more and more using the options provided by Lighthouse Consulting we saw the need for quality management and I was able to convince Karl to come on board.”

Mr. Graham stated “The offer from Mr. Duff to help Lighthouse Consulting manage their seats in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean was one I did not have to consider very long. This is a great opportunity for me, Lighthouse Consulting, their clients and all the Caribbean people we will bring quality jobs to.”

Lighthouse Consulting would like to announce the opening of its new International offices in Jamaica, West Indies. In an effort to meet its client’s needs, Lighthouse has opened offices that will handle all Caribbean operations and allow Lighthouse to better serve its International clients. Business offices in both Kingston and Montego Bay, Jamaica have been recently opened. Lighthouse Consulting is helping International companies to reduce labor rates and increase levels liquidation. The initial interest has been from ARM companies, debt buyers and creditors but Lighthouse Consulting is also servicing first party clients.

Lighthouse Consulting provides near shore consulting and seat management for its clients looking for reduced labor costs. By managing the island labor as a value added service for its clients the ROI stays high and the clients stay satisfied. As profits get squeezed in the US near shore labor becomes a better option for many businesses but managing the process is a learning curve straightened by Lighthouse Consulting and it’s near shore operations.

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.