Everyone likes surprises. That is, everyone except those on a collection floor. A steady predictable meeting of goals is undoubtedly the ideal way every collection professional wants his or her day to proceed. Tracking progress is the most effective way of preventing surprises at the end of the month. Collection Advisor sat down with Jeff Parker, president of Prince Parker and Associates to discuss telecom collections, difficulties with the TCPA and key metrics collection agencies should be tracking.
Tell us how you got started in collections.
I got my start in the business on the client side. I began working in the collections group for a Fortune 500 telecom provider. I was fortunate enough to work my way up through the organization over 13 years. I spent my final three years running the collections division. In the early ‘90s, I wrote a business plan and opened my own agency. Shortly afterwards, we began providing services to the telecom space and the industry continues to be a major focus for us today.
If you had to pick the most important advance in telecom collection technology in the past 10 years, what would it be and why?
From my perspective, alternative contact platforms have been the most significant and important technology advancement in the telecom space. The developments of legal and compliant platforms that meet TCPA guidelines have been critical to all companies serving the industry. As the volume of delinquent telecom work was expanding, our ability to effectively contact customers had become challenged by regulatory conditions. As a result, industry leaders developed alternatives to predictive dialing that bridged the regulatory gap and assured more cost effective methods to meet the challenges. So it really became critical to develop engines that would assure account penetration requirements and also adhere to compliance and regulatory standards.
A number of studies have demonstrated collection software can improve the detection of non-compliant collecting. What functions should collectors use routinely in telecom collections if it is available?
There have been significant advances in collection software as well as support services that are game changers. Collection software platforms continually evolve with features that drive compliance. Our particular software has numerous built in advanced security and quality certifications. Offerings including cell phone validation, regulatory requirements by state and time zone recognition, etc. are all available in real time. Basically, we use the platform to dictate strategy on any given account from cradle to grave. Within our organization, the systems and software are configured by management to design strategy in an attempt to drive compliance and performance. Designed properly, management and strategy resources within your organization utilize software and support services to develop contact campaigns. This takes decision making on tools and campaigns off the collection floor, allowing collectors to focus on compliance. We push out the tools and the strategy to our front line specialists so their single focus can be executing the interaction and maximizing call outcomes.
It remains unclear whether dialers result in better compliance control, but evidence suggests this approach offers advantages in terms of recovery/promises to pay. How can these advantages be utilized in telecom collections and maintain compliance?
Again, a hybrid contact platform strategy is required to assure TCPA compliance. Dialers do increase results in both contact rates and ultimately financial performance but also create compliance roadblocks. Designing a delivery platform that maximizes contacts while meeting regulatory requirements is an absolute necessity.
Does the current collection compliance environment support the use of text messaging?
Unfortunately, we haven’t been provided a definitive message on compliance related to text usage. It is not prohibited within FDCPA. However, there are other considerations including prior consent, inability to have the customer incur any charges, disclosure requirements, inability to disclose information to third parties and mandates that provide options for customers to opt out. We do not have any current telecom clients that have authorized text messaging. It would be advantageous for the industry to more clearly define text messaging compliance as SMS is rapidly becoming the most popular communication channel.
What is your philosophy when it comes to monitoring collector compliance and performance?
Managing both compliance and performance is critical to the success of our company. Our competitors in the industry are continually improving and we have to keep pace. From a compliance perspective, we deploy independent resources within our agency that are responsible for training, monitoring and coaching compliance. We monitor collectors on an ongoing basis and develop processes assuring state and federal regulations are met. Systems should be designed to drive contacting the right people at the right time and documenting the accounts with legal detail. We develop teams of collectors dedicated to particular groups of clients in order to assure compliance with client procedures as well.
As it relates to performance management, we measure front-line resources and managers based on three key variables: production metrics, performance metrics and employee metrics. Production metrics are activity-based and include measurement of results on items including number of accounts worked, number of contacts and number of promises made. Production metrics are results based including dollars collected, paid-in-fulls, web payments, post dates, credit card payments and so on. Employee metrics are also critical and include measurement of schedule adherence, attendance and attrition. We cross reference the various metrics to determine and demonstrate cause and effect and provide feedback and coaching to improve individual, team and company results.
Is there a place for settlement plans that are not fulfilled to revert to the full amount of the debt in telecom collections?
Settlement options are utilized in the space and are effective tools for resolution. Settlements are normally used as a strategy to resolve older accounts in later stage portfolios. The offers often include dates for resolution to create a sense-of-urgency window in conjunction with the offer. If an offer includes a deadline and you make a decision to accept the settlement beyond the deadline, it would be wise to include safe harbor language in the notice giving you the right to change the terms of the settlement offer.
What do you predict will be the most important game changer in telecom collection management in the next three years?
It is difficult to predict just one. There is a continual evolution of data procurement and continued advancement of analytics. Securing and performing detailed analysis on account data will allow our industry to continue to improve the work we do for our clients. Account scoring, enhanced skip tracing and trigger data are all essential to adapting to the telecom landscape. However, if I had to pick the most important game changer, it would be continued investment in people. We know that regardless of technological advances that our people are ultimately going to determine the level of success for our organization. As a result, we maintain a commitment to continually developing and nurturing what we consider our most valuable resource.
What is a serious error collection professionals make when collecting telecom debt and how do you suggest it be avoided?
Mistakes happen in our industry. It is incumbent that we have controls to minimize those mistakes and ongoing training to assure they are not repeated. Compliance errors are without a doubt the most critical. It is much easier to recover from a mistake made in collection technique which precludes you from a positive outcome on an account than to recover from a compliance error potentially creating exposure to your company and your client. Again, ongoing measurement, monitoring and coaching are essential to minimize errors.
What does Prince Parker and Associates do to help/be involved in the community?
We are extremely active in our community. We consider ourselves fortunate to be able to serve and give to local charitable organizations. One of my proudest accomplishments was being named “Leukemia and Lymphoma Man of the Year” a few years back. We are supporters of 20 local charities including Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics and a number local homeless shelters and food banks. Our involvement with these organizations is extremely rewarding.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Most all of my free time is spent with family and friends. I wouldn’t have it any other way.