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 a person is experiencing; learning how to actively listen and engage with the a 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 personal representative or 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.  


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


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.

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