Dealing With A Hostile Caller In Debt Collection

We hope there is at least one of you reading this who has also read the blog about Joe's embarrassing phone call story. Because that story contrasts quite starkly to the view of the way that we handle telephone calls during the course of our business today. It is however important to note that it did not start out that way as the above blog testifies to.

In most customer-facing roles, or even some strictly B2B roles you are going to at some point inevitably end up having a difficult conversation. The term difficult is subjective and what is difficult for one person may be no trouble at all for the next person so this blog does not intend to define what is difficult in a way that can be generalised across the entire population of its readership, but rather what to do when it happens.

We think referring to the previous blog about the story which involved an embarrassing experience and Director Joe Postings very early on into his business career is important because that particular anecdote was written under a sub-heading, called confidence. Confidence when it comes to dealing with hostility is a really important part of the

experience of dealing with difficult or hostile callers and we will talk more about it later on in the blog.

However, there is also another important element to the noticeable change which has happened between the “then” and “now” which is implicitly referred to between this blog and the one mentioned above and that is one of experience. And for us, experience is more than just the passing of time. More than just a timeframe of more than 15 years that separates the two events.

Allow us to elaborate; it should be noted that the previous story made clear that for Joe his first experience of using the telephone ended up resulting in him feeling highly embarrassed in front of his colleagues in the office. One of the key points in the story was that he ended up being faced with having to leave a voicemail which he had not been prepared for, and why would he have been? He had never done it before.

Do you suppose that on the second call he made he also never spared a thought for what he was going to say if again the call went to voicemail, and he was prompted to leave a voicemail? You can bet your life he did! He analysed the hell out of that negative first experience and also analysed the hell out of the second call by rehearsing and preparing what he had to say in every eventuality as he would do anything not to have a repeat of the first experience again.

So the point is that his experience precipitated a learning curve for him and a point of professional growth in his career and when the second call he made went a lot more smoothly. It also resulted in some personal growth too, in the form of a bit more confidence when using the telephones and a sense of achievement which we hope most of you will be able to relate to at having overcome a particularly challenging obstacle. We talk more about how adversity can be a blessing in disguise here.

So, we have a situation there where we have reached a point of some comfort and that would be tremendous for us all if our careers were more of a destination and less of a journey but our experience is quite the opposite. It is much more of a journey than it is a destination and so naturally the goalposts changed. Sometimes it seems just as soon as we find ourselves finding a sweet spot in our comfort zone life chucks another curveball at us and we back outside of it again.

Step up Joe’s first hostile caller. Springtime 2006. Working as a general administrator for a small family run independent financial advisor which involved some cash-collection duties Joe took a call from a client who was less than pleased. The man had been chasing up his mortgage offer for the mortgage that the company had been arranging for him and it was costing him money on hotel costs, builders, and rent in his current accommodation and storage charges while he waited for the green light to move into his new house.

The man had been extremely persistent and called several times throughout the day. As Joe had not faced this kind of pressure before it began to tell on him and involuntarily let out a huff on the phone as soon as the client announced himself on the phone for the umpteenth time that day. The client was immediately furious with Joe’s less than professional telephone manner and proceeded to threaten him to say that he was going to come down to the office with his “cousins from Coventry” and “sort him out”.

It really could not get any worse, however, Joe managed to end the call assuring the client of an update on his mortgage offer as soon as possible. You might be pleased to know that the hostile caller did not follow up on his threat of visiting the office, but Joe did not do anything about it anyway. Did not report it to his line manager, did not call the police or report it to anyone. He just froze. Completely outside of his comfort zone yet again. But was there something else to be learned from that?

Of course, there was. We believe there always is. Joe had invited persistent calls from that client by continually assuring him of something that he was not able to deliver on, an update on his mortgage offer on that day. As Joe was reliant on other people to provide the update on the mortgage offer, he should not have made any assurances or given timeframes by which that information would have been provided if he could not have realistically expected it to be achievable.

The other thing which, upon his psychological post-mortem that he did after the call, he realised was a poor choice was to huff down the phone to a client of the business. Putting himself in the shoes of the client enabled him to see that a reaction of that kind from a representative of a business who has been instructed to take on a responsibility as big as

organising a mortgage for you is bound to provoke some feelings of dissatisfaction, whether or not making a threat in retaliation is justified or not. Cue, more growth.

The next time a client made a threat to come to the office in an aggressive tone, following a call from Joe chasing payment from them for money he handled it differently. Because he had the experience to lean on the subsequent growth in confidence from the experience he had after the last one. This time he reported it to his line manager immediately who took account of what happened and ensured that it was dealt with appropriately.

Nowadays, being a company that is psychologically informed we understand a bit more about aggressive and hostile behavior and without delving into the theory of it too much we would give an example that we hope most people can relate to. Notice how animals get fiercely protective of their young. Whether it is a goose in the park or a gazelle on a tv show protecting their young from an approaching lion. Aggression and hostility are often fear in disguise.

Now that we know that people who are being hostile to us on the phone are doing so because they feel threatened, and usually the degree to which they are being hostile often reflects the extent to which they feel threatened, we can come at it from a different angle. We can ask ourselves, how have we come to make them feel so threatened? We do not set out to make people feel threatened so it is useful to think about what could be causing it and sometimes appropriate to be quite direct about it with them by saying something like “what is causing you to feel so upset about…?”.

We know that 9 times out of 10 their response is going to be to blame us for something, unable to see how their perception of the situation is influencing their response, so it becomes a bit of a problem-solving issue and less about a personal threat to us on the other end of the phone. Problems, therefore, are usually resolvable, and when working in this way are usually preventable too when we ask ourselves “what could we do which is likely to result in them feeling threatened?”

We are here to do a bit to businesses safeguard their cash flow against late payers or debtors that are refusing to pay, so if you have been struggling to get an invoice paid and would appreciate the support of a team who pride themselves on operating in a way that is mindful of the above then visit our website at and contact us to discuss your needs. We operate on a no-win-no-fee basis for bad debt recovery and our credit control and credit risk services can be ordered via our website with the littlest of hassle.

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