By Vilis Ozols, MBA, CSP

 This article appeared in the California Collectors Association monthly magazine; Collectors Ink, in the Texas Collectors Association monthly magazine and in the CRS News quarterly newsletter in 2005.

Usually, when you hear some cockamamie statement like “Fear makes cowards of us all!” you can be pretty sure that it was Yogi Berra, the long-ago catcher for the New York Yankees, who said it. After all, he’s the one who said “You can observe a lot just by watching,” “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours,” “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded,” and “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

But in this case, it’s not Yogi’s quote…I made it up. If you think about it, fear has its own special place as a motivator, or de-motivator, in today’s collections environment.  It really does.

How many collectors don’t make their calls because they fear that a debtor might get angry at them? Or fear that if they’re successful working really hard this week then next week they’ll be expected to produce again? Or fear that the debtor might have a good reason for not paying (one to which the collector can’t respond)? All of these fears are real; how you, as a collector or manager, choose to deal with them will determine if fear is a motivator or a de-motivator. The bottom line is this: if these (or other) fears are keeping you from doing your job to the best of your abilities, then you are allowing fear to be a de-motivator.

Fear makes cowards of us all

Fortunately, the best collectors have learned how not to let fear negatively impact their jobs. They become comfortable with the unknown, with the chance of an emotional encounter, and with the idea of making lots of phone calls and continuous effort.

How do they do this? There are a number of ways:

1)      Experience. The best collectors, even after only a little bit of experience, have learned to overcome their fears with the confidence that they have done this before and succeeded in spite of anything that a debtor on the other end of the phone line might have said.

2)      Training. Like “experience,” training is a big eraser of fear. You may not have seen, heard, and done it all, but a good collection training program will help you to at least have a game plan for the common situations you will run into on the phone.

3)      Discomfort is a good thing! Most people mistakenly believe that the more comfortable they are, the more successful they are. This is SO wrong! Think of the greatest successes you have ever accomplished. Odds are that while you were accomplishing them you were very uncomfortable, often uncertain, and probably scared and flying by the seat of your pants a lot. (That’s what made those successes seem so great!) If you aren’t feeling uncomfortable, it’s likely you aren’t trying hard enough. The best collectors and business people learn to thrive on discomfort, because success lies closer to the discomfort zone than to the comfort zone. Just say: “So what!” if you don’t know what’s coming on the next phone call…attack it anyway. That’s what the most successful collectors do. The fearful ones look for excuses to put off or avoid calls; fear wins out over success when they do this.

4)      Hard work. I know this sounds like something a motivational speaker might say, but it is true: the harder you work the luckier you will get. I use that word because I know that there are a bunch of the top performing collectors who get labeled by their co-workers as “lucky.” They think those performers get the better accounts, the better clients, and the easier types of debts. The truth is this: Luck favors momentum! The top collectors simply work harder! Try it out for size. How about this week, you work as hard as you think you possibly can. Make a gazillion phone calls; push yourself to your limits; don’t let any of your own usual excuses slow you down. If you do this, guess what the result will be? I already know the answer: you WILL collect more. So the real question is: how hard are you willing to work? As a former athlete, I recognize that there are two types of athletes: those who aren’t giving it everything they have, and those of us that are beating them! Remember, the harder you work, the luckier you will get!

So, you business owners reading this article are probably saying to yourselves: “Alright! Tell these collectors to get over the fears!” Hold on now! How many of you business owners or managers are running parts of your operation that are held back by fear? I see it in software industry all the time: collection agency owners who are scared of adopting technology that would help their collectors collect more money. Yes, new technology can be scary….Get over it!

For every agency owner or system administrator who is saying to themselves that this new technology won’t work—or is too risky, expensive, comprehensive, complicated or ________ (you can put your own favorite in here)—there is probably a more successful agency down the road that is using that technology to make their lives easier and their collectors more successful.

You should know the technologies: IVR, inbound and outbound predictive dialer technology, skills based routing, credit card by phone, check by phone, ACH, automatic virtual payment posting, web-based client interfaces, automated system-enabled skip tracing, integrated National Change of Address letter services, remote employee access, internal account scoring/ranking, ODBC data mirroring for limitless data mining, electronic document imaging, and the automation that “jobs” and “strategies” in the CRS system bring to even a small agency, to name just a few.  Oh, and my personal favorite: If you haven’t bought a new hardware server since the last time you changed your hair style, it might be time to change both!

Here’s my challenge. Go through the preceding list of technologies and for each one, identify (1) what it is, (2) how it can help my collections effort, and (3) why I am scared to consider it.

If you can’t give yourself reasonable answers in these key areas, call the staff at CR Software. Any one of the sales staff here will be glad to walk through these technologies and what’s involved in implementing them. If you are really having a hard time considering these types of technologies, maybe you, as a business owner or manager, should rate yourself in those four collector “Fear” areas and see how you measure up in the departments of Experience, Training, Discomfort, and Hard Work!

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), the American poet and philosopher, said it this way: “Do what you fear the most, and the death of fear is certain.” Whatever success I’ve enjoyed in my career is due in no small part to this philosophy. Whether you are a collector, a manager, a collection agency owner, or a company that develops and sells collections software, I guarantee you that if you confront your fears, success is guaranteed!


Vilis Ozols, MBA, CSP, ( president of the Ozols Business Group in Albany, NY is a motivational business speaker and leadership consultant. He is the author of 3 books, he’s a former pro beach volleyball player and he has spoken to businesses in all 50 U.S. states.