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.

Connect with Tony on LinkedIn.

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.


About the Author


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.

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.

20 Years Pioneering Collections: A Roundtable Reflection

As DCM Services reaches a pivotal moment in organizational history, it’s important to contemplate past successes and opportunities that have shaped our organization and the industries we serve. Today, five industry subject matter experts at DCM Services share their personal reflections on past and present, moreover offering a glimpse into the future.

Patient Bankruptcy – What Revenue Cycle Professionals Need to Know for Their Organization’s Own Fiscal Health

What do experts mean when they say high health care bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the US Studies differ on exactly what percentage of personal bankruptcies filed each year are associated with high medical bills.

When Patients Pass – The Compliance Issue Every Provider Needs to Know

Nearly a decade ago, DCM Services conducted an informal survey of more than 100 health systems and other providers in an effort to understand current practices in the management of accounts for deceased patients.