How One Agency’s Academic Approach to Empathy Transforms the Debt Collection Experience

Empathy /empəTHē / (noun): The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy has gone from merely a word, to an organizational state of mind at DCM Services (DCMS). In any consumer interaction, empathy is critical to success. Flippant attitudes and disregard for the feelings of the person interacting with your front-line employees can cause damage you may never have the chance to repair. Alternatively, when given the appropriate consideration, these challenges provide an opportunity to cement a positive and lasting relationship with a customer.

This principle may not hold truer in any industry more than deceased accounts receivable management. Mastering empathy starts with developing an academic understanding of the process this person is experiencing; learning how to actively listen and engage with the survivor, personal representative, and/or executor and creating respect for the unique grieving process each person is navigating.

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When we train new representatives at DCM Services, the first step we take is to walk our newest employees through a trainer-facilitated module explaining the probate process in plain English, from the perspective of a decedent’s family member acting as the estate’s executor. This family member may go through the process of retaining an attorney, filing for probate, interacting with creditors, and resolving accounts to close the estate in court. Therefore, understanding probate is the first building block in developing academic appreciation for the consumer experience. Before our account representatives can attempt to relate, they must own a comprehensive knowledge of the process a survivor may experience themselves.  

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To move past appreciation and into a genuine engagement with someone, simply hearing the words they say is not enough. In what might be an emotionally-charged conversation, such behavior will not help drive solutions. Therefore, at DCMS we break “empathic active listening” down to a science; the steps we take while doing so, and how we demonstrate an active role in a conversation.  Internalizing the spoken words, filtering for the applicable facts and emotions, and using what was deduced to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution. In the short duration of each phone call, our exemplary representatives apply everything they’ve learned to problem-solve with consideration and kindness.

Despite popular belief, the grieving process lacks five neatly defined stages nor a linear progression. Ensuring that our employees understand this misconception is one of the most important insights our trainers emphasize during their initial three weeks of influence. A truly empathic representative understands that a caller who seemed “at peace” with the passing 30 days ago, may have a drastically different reaction to a conversation today even if the stereotypical progression of grief suggests they should be coping better with the loss. Every story may sound similar on the surface, yet underneath they are never the same.

Regardless of the portfolio, the overarching narrative of the account receivable industry, and more broadly the financial services industry, is in the hands of those who directly interact with consumers. Anyone with a vested interest in improving the general perception of the industry has a responsibility to act from an educated position, and to use that position to change that perception through genuine engagement and respect for the varying stories and circumstances of consumers, one interaction at a time.

Learn more about how partnering with an empathy-first agency transforms your recovery process →

About the author

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Since joining DCM Services in 2008, Tony has executed on the organization’s core values in several roles.  After 3 years as an Account Representative on behalf of several clients, Tony acted as the Senior Quality Assurance Specialist for 5 years as a member of the organization’s compliance department.  In 2016, he assumed a new role in managing DCMS’ new hire and on-going training initiatives.  He strives to ensure the organization is providing a top of the line learning and development experience by collaborating with stakeholders and introducing new programs, including DCMS’ newest opportunity, Corporate Coaching.

Connect with Tony on LinkedIn.

DCM Services names Dereck Eastman as Chief Technology Officer

Minneapolis, MNJune 17, 2019 — DCM Services, LLC (DCMS) the industry leader in estate and specialty account recovery solutions, announced today the promotion of Dereck Eastman to Chief Technology Officer.

Dereck Eastman, Chief Technology Officer

Dereck Eastman, Chief Technology Officer

Eastman, who most recently served as Vice President of Information Technology, will continue to oversee all application and development support as well as the IT infrastructure area. Eastman joined the organization in 2006 and has nearly 2 decades of experience architecting and developing software. He has been the premier software developer at DCMS and has led the development of several technologies including Probate Finder®, Probate Finder OnDemand®, DCMS ServiceLink® and many other industry leading tools.

“Over the last 13 years, Dereck has become an integral part of our organization,” said Tim Bauer, DCMS Chief Executive Officer. “Dereck’s ability to understand business challenges and apply appropriate technology solutions has established him as a leader within DCMS. Dereck’s leadership and accomplishments at DCMS have led to this well-deserved promotion.”

About DCM Services

Minneapolis-based DCM Services, is the industry leader in estate and specialty account resolution services, maximizing the value of client portfolios across financial services, healthcare, retail, and telecom industries through innovation and performance. Its recovery solutions offer a full range of services from proprietary web-based solutions to full outsourcing, maintaining an unmatched spectrum of innovative solutions that increase recoveries, protect brand value, and enhance survivor relationships – with respect and sensitivity. For more information on all DCM Services’ offerings, visit www.dcmservices.com. 

How to create organizational value with a post-audit report

Did you say audit? Audit requests for companies like DCM Services are part of our everyday operations and environment. Our team understands that audit preparation is a large, but very important endeavor. Being an auditee involves a time commitment for document gathering, an explanatory meeting regarding processes and procedures, and gathering evidence requests. This pre-audit foundation work is often met with more critique than praise. However, what most internal audit teams ignore are the many opportunities to create organizational value following an audit.

An independent perspective

The audit process allows you to receive an independent perspective on your company’s processes and efficiencies. Most of the time the auditor has audited companies in your industry, or even your competitors. The auditor’s opinions and recommendations should be held in high regard and used to improve your company’s services, internal operations, and processes. An on-site audit is also a great opportunity for our team to build a trusted reputation and relationship.

Furthermore, auditing is a chance to showcase your company’s dedication to compliance, the complex regulatory environment, and your proactive approach to strong internal controls. Many organizations face a wide range of risks that impact the outcome of their business; risk management, compliance, and audit functions deserve attention as they are extremely important to the overall organizational health.

A consultative approach

After an audit, our team pays close attention to the audit closeout meeting, which is a comprehensive discussion of the audit experience. Auditors leave no stone left unturned, covering observations both good and bad, but ultimately highlighting areas of improvement. Often, audit teams overlook the mentions of positive actions and practices that were observed during the audit due to the negative connotation often associated with the audit process. Once received, the audit report details any opportunities for improvement. These items then are discussed with our audit committee and executive leadership team.



This closeout meeting is also our chance to ask any questions, give feedback, evaluate portfolio strategies, and the improvement of processes. During this time, we discuss any potential discrepancies, and provide clarity to the auditors about our internal processes. Most importantly, our team takes advantage of this meeting to build rapport as most auditors are subject matter experts in their industries with vast repositories of knowledge and upcoming trends.

How to create value

Auditing is an independent, objective, assurance activity that adds value and improves our company’s operations. Audit activities also provide assurance to management and our audit committee that risks to the organization have been properly evaluated and are being managed appropriately.

Our advice? Embrace a solution-driven culture of creativity and innovation for your clients, employees, and stakeholders. Leverage the audit as a valuable resource to executive management and the board of directors in accomplishing overall goals and objectives, as well as strengthening internal control and governance. A vendor with strong processes in place sets a standard for their clients, and ultimately elevates the industry at-large. Your commitment to continually improve your relationships and business operations will result in air-tight process control and eventually the establishment as a leader in your industry.

In the long run, it will be most effective for your organization to internalize proper audit practices as part of your holistic mission and culture. Here at DCM Services, we do the right thing not because a policy or law requires it, but because we truly value integrity and recognize the critical importance of compliance and risk management.

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About the Author

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Melissa Coutier applies her decade of experience in government/regulatory auditing to successfully managing the Audit team at DCM Services. Her variety of expertise includes Risk Management, Federal Compliance, Internal Controls, Process Improvement, and Internal Investigations. She is a member of both the Certified Fraud Examiners Association and the Certified Internal Auditors Association, along with serving on the Supervisory Committee at a Federal Credit Union. Melissa’s team has received praise and won awards from clients as being a top leader in compliance in our industry.

Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn.

Considerations for Deceased Account Recovery

It’s important to understand that the differences between traditional debt recovery and deceased account recovery are significant, and thus deceased accounts require specialized treatment. Predominantly, the reason accounts are placed for follow up with DCM Services is because the consumer passed away, not because there was a delinquency on the account. As such, these accounts shouldn’t follow the same path that traditional delinquent accounts follow.

I’ve outlined my considerations for deceased account recovery in the following three categories: legal considerations, nuances of probated estate claim filing, and consumer sensitivity.

Legal considerations

As with traditional debt recovery, if the work is being done in the third party, there are specific laws to be adhered to. The FDCPA and other state debt collection laws are examples of laws that must be abided by; however, they were not written with deceased account recovery in mind and as such, are incomprehensive. Between 2009 – 2010, the FTC did research within the deceased account recovery space and provided some guidance with their “Statement of Policy Regarding Communication in Connection With the Collection of Decedents’ Debts,” which should be reviewed. Below are a few significant topics they address within the statement:

  • The definition of who is allowed to be considered a Right Party Contact (RPC), and how to confirm their authority in relation to the deceased consumer

  • Information cannot be disclosed about the debt until the RPC is identified. Although, DCMS respects the intent of this requirement, this unfortunately leads to initial complications during the recoveries process, a delicate dance takes place; agents cannot disclose any account information until the RPC has been confirmed, but often the contacted party won’t disclose their role until the agent provides the reason that they’re calling. This confusion is further magnified by a cultural concern with data protection and privacy.

  • Liability of the debt cannot be misrepresented. This often translates to agents proactively giving a non-liability disclosure to the RPC.



Nuances of probate claim filing

Identifying probated estates and filing creditors’ claims are a complicated, yet critical, part of this specialty receivable as well. Simply searching for probate cases, managing the process, and remaining compliant within the requirements to present claims in each jurisdiction (of which there are more than 3,400) is enough to cause complications. Furthermore, allowable time spans in which to file the claims must be managed by locations, which vary drastically. As an authorized signer, proper and adequate knowledge of the debt and claim signing controls must be in place. This part of the process, specifically, can be overwhelming, cumbersome, and expensive, to manage. Have no fear, there are subject matter experts at DCM Services to assist.

Consumer sensitivity

By now you’re probably wondering what risks are associated with not understanding all of these constraints. If there are incorrect or inadequate service levels associated with these specialty accounts, the risks often manifest themselves in the form of:

  • Elevated complaint levels

  • Consumer harm

  • Harm to an organization’s brand

  • Disallowed or disputed claims (if your controls are inadequate related to filing creditors claim against the probated estate)

In the end, nearly every aspect of communication is completely unique. Recovering on specialty receivables is far more akin to a customer service interaction than collections. It requires a level of sensitivity and compassion. This often results in call length longer than your average debt collection call as there are a myriad of disclosures. The ongoing training agents receive should encompass patience, sensitivity, and tone, yet a firm reminder that they are not grief counselors. Agents also need to understand the probate process without providing legal advice. 

My advice? Work with a partner who is aware of the legal considerations, well-versed in the nuances of probate claim filing, and is skilled in consumer sensitivity.

DCM Services can help drive growth at every stage in the recoveries process and assist in creating the right end-to-end workflow for your organization.


About the author

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As a veteran in the credit and collections industry with over 25 years of experience, Tracey joined DCM Services in 2004. Her experience includes customer care through late-stage recovery call center operations, in addition to first-party and third-party roles. She has managed multi-location call centers, including new center acquisitions and integration.

Tracey serves as an editorial board member on the Compliance Professionals Forum (InsideARM affiliate) and has been asked to speak on industry recovery topics throughout the nation.  

Tracey received a Bachelor of Arts from University of Minnesota in English and Communications.

Connect with Tracey on LinkedIn.


Probate Finder OnDemand®: Expectation vs. Reality, Part 2

When we talk about Probate Finder OnDemand® we often focus on the proprietary Probate Finder® technology powering our probated estate location and claim presentation solution. And rightfully so, as there is no comparable product on the market. To stop there doesn’t do justice in highlighting the full picture. The application may be the star, but now it’s time to pull back the curtain and introduce you to the equally impressive supporting cast.

Probate Finder OnDemand®: Expectation vs. Reality

So what really happens behind the scenes when your internal collections team uses Probate Finder OnDemand® to locate estates, place accounts, and approve estate recovery claims? Most users’ knowledge of the process begins and ends with our “One-click” claim approval, when in reality there is a complex, unseen series of actions beneath the surface.