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.

If there is an elephant in the room, I brought it

As a consultant to the debt collection industry I spend lots of time looking at other peoples businesses and telling them what they are doing wrong. Its quite a balancing act to tell a successful business owner how they have screwed up. It has always reminded me of the old statement about a elephant in the room and no one notices it. The problems in most businesses look so obvious to me I am wondering why they can’t see it of even if they do see it why they don’t fix it.

Well this is what drives my consulting business so I should be used to it now. So how do you see the elephant in your business? Try these 3 things to help you see the elephant in the room.

The restaurant business consists of 2 primary factors that will gauge the success of the concept, food and labor cost. The rent and the cost of utilities stay fairly steady but labor and food costs will fluctuate with the seasons and with the volume of customers. If you want to be successful you always keep a eye on these two areas to be successful in the restaurant business. Debt collections has similar key factors as well.

The first checkpoint is your cost per seat if your cost to do the business is high then all your unit yields have to be high and this is a hard thing to do these days with the low liquidity of most placements. If you want to explore how to calculate your cost per seat then give me a call.

Next is your unit yields or the actual dollar value you collect per account placed. In other words if you got 100 accounts that equaled $10K in face value and you collected $1000 in total then your unit yield would be $1000 divide by 100 accounts or $10 unit yield. So just like your cost per seat if your unit yields are too low then its another sign you have a problem. A good unit yield is $13 but some companies that work very lean and have lots of volume can make money with $8 unit yields. If you want more info on your unit yields call me at 904-687-1687.

And third KPI is the processes you are using. This is not a easy thing to measure like the cost per seat but it will highly effect your cost per seat and the unit yields. If you not using the best and most efficient process to collect the debt your wasting money and leaving money on the table both at the same time. My consulting services can help you get the most out of your business give me a call.

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”.

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.

Did the birth of the “consumer” and the death of the “debtor” kill the debt collection industry?

As the debt collection industry has tried to be more consumer friendly we changed our vocabulary from “debtor” to “consumer”. How has that also changed the industries mindset? Is it a good thing?

I think not.

It was hard for me to change my vocabulary a couple years ago but it was willingly I did so. As the market started using the word consumer over the word debtor it seemed appropriate. But the longer this has been in effect the more and more I see it affecting the mindset of collectors, managers and owners in a negative way. Consumer lawyers (maybe we should call them debtor lawyers) are why we changed our tune but I think we should have kept the word debtor, its not a bad word.

Somehow the word debtor became a bad word and I am not sure why?

Wikipedia defines a debtor as “If X borrowed money from his/her bank, X is the debtor and the bank is the creditor. If X puts money in the bank, X is the creditor and the bank is the debtor.” and defines a consumer as “The consumer is the one who pays to consume goods and services produced.”

If this is the definition to both words they are debtors not consumers, consumers “pay to consume”,

So why did a whole industry change its vocabulary?  

The truth is we did it from pressure we created on ourselves as an industry. We thought its would make us look more consumer friendly in the eyes of regulators, clients and potential clients. But was this a good thing? I think it has gotten too many collectors and even managers in a mid set that the debtor is right and the collection strategy is the bad factor.

The truth is that debt collection has been getting more and more consumer friendly since I began collecting in 1979. But it has gotten to a high point in 2016 in my opinion. Debt collection has changed to accommodate the consumers’ habits by moving to self-cure websites and IVR systems.

The birth of self-cure 

The birth of debtors curing their debt online with no human interaction is a positive result of the consumer mentality of debt collection. It has allowed agencies and law firms to reduce its compliance exposure and collection expenses by letting the debtor pay online. Most debtors do not really desire to talk to a debt collector when it comes time to pay they just want to make the transaction online. So the use of a payment site is the obvious answer and a best thing to come from the consumer friendly era created by consumer attorneys.

Now what? 

I think as an industry we need to remember that that are both debtors and consumers. Actually our job as an industry is to turn them from debtors into consumers. We have to treat them like consumers but remember that they are debtors till they pay the debt and they need to be handled like debtors.

The fact that our industry has made the effort to allow the debtors to self-cure by creating elaborate payment sites shows our ability to adapt to the consumer model but we still have to remember that most debtors need help to pay their obligations. They need financial counseling, just the push a call makes or they need a payment arrangement that the website cannot approve for them.

Lets remember they are debtors and need our help to pay their bills and become consumers.

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

Do you want to control your companies online reputation on all the top consumer review/complaint websites?

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.

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

Your positive reviews are auto-published to Facebook, Twitter, website, custom review site and 50+ consumer site.

You can generate a steady flow of positive reviews from your happy customers, via mobile, check-in, SMS & email campaign. And all the aggravated reviews are sent to you in real time so you can take action immediately.

With the Lighthouse Reputation Beacon, your business is found by search engines — accurately and up-to-date — across all the major consumer sites.

Lighthouse Reputation Beacon will generate and download ROI reports showing growth in reviews, ratings, traffic and ROI to support business decisions.

This service is very affordable, to learn more call Phillip W. Duff at 904-687-1687 X 101.

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.

The one thing you can’t afford to do in todays environment .

Here is a quote from Steve McQueen in the Magnificent Seven

“You remind me of a guy who fell from the 10th story of a building, he was heard saying as he went by each floor.  “All good so far.“

Well maybe I gave that away to easy but yes the answer is be complacent or to do nothing. You cannot sit around waiting on anything anymore. Business cycles move at much higher rates due to the movement of information via the internet. If you sit still for a just one minute you have lost your space in line.

But I guess the real question is what should you be doing? Well thats a three part answer.

If you are an creditor, agency or law firm in the business of debt collection you need to first find cost reductions that do not reduce the service you provide to your client. Better labor at reduced costs, better technology, automation and improved processes.

Secondly you must find to create stickiness to your current client base. Give them more or give them something no-one else can or does. It is that level of service that will determine the stickiness you have with that client.

And that does not mean just meet or exceed their KPI’s, sometimes it means telling them their KPI”s are misaligned or too high to too low. Far to many companies are afraid to tell their clients how they think the money can best be recovered instead they work towards KPI’s that will NOT provide the best results.

Lastly you will need to find or create new business lines and new lines of revenue. You will have to step outside you box and look at things differently to get that perfect client base. You must look at business acquisition differently. Social Media and the internet are now how you will introduce yourself to the next prospect.

Lighthouse Consulting can help you do all of these. Yes even the marketing, actually we do lot’s of marketing and sales assistance in the ARM space.