It's the Christmas season! A time of joy, giving ... and a difficult month for most collection agents.
It isn't what you might think ... from my experience, it's not consumers refusing to pay because it's a few days from Christmas day, it's not bill collectors being cold-hearted to downtrodden and financially strapped people during the holidays, it's a lack of time. In most months, there are 21 or 22 business days, if collection agents don't work on Saturdays (which is a subject for an entirely different article). With the holidays of Christmas Day and Boxing Day, that often reduces the available work time by 10%. So many agencies require their staff to work on Christmas Eve, either until noon, or even all day.
I've been a collector, and a collection manager with a team that was forced to work on Christmas Eve, and it's my experience that it's an utter waste of time. Consumers aren't home, businesses are closed, and in the case of actually reaching someone, the people you speak to are not in the position or inclined to make payment until after Christmas. December 24th is a graveyard shift that doesn't cover the cost of having the lights on and the staff come in -- at least that's been my experience. So as a small bonus to our staff, we close the office on Christmas Eve and give the staff the day off with pay.
But it's not just Christmas Eve -- it's a bit of a descending rate of return during the days you get closer to December 25th -- right party contact rates drop the week before Christmas as people take time off from work for vacation, and travel to see friends and family, or simply ignore the phone calls and letters they receive. The last week before Christmas can be a struggle to reach debtors and make productive arrangements.
As well, a lot of major creditors understand that between potential damage to brand reputation and diminishing returns on recoveries, they don't want their debtors called during the holidays -- some clients impose a 'collections blackout' for either a few days, or even up to two weeks. This doesn't make life easier for the collection agency, already strapped for time and efficiency.
This year, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day fall on Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, pretty much the worst timing possible for the week. I wasn't about to have our branches open on Christmas Eve, but that left Monday and Friday. Monday the 23rd wasn't going to be very effective, so we talked it over and Salina Rose, a manager at our Ontario office made an excellent suggestion -- the team members would put in extra time in early December to make up for missing the 23rd. Everyone at both our branches jumped on board with the idea, and you know, it was 150% better than being open on the Monday. So our company is closed today.
For those collection agents who are working today and tomorrow, we wish you the best of luck during a challenging holiday season to reach folks -- and for those managers who have control over scheduling, think about a more productive way to work around Christmas holidays next year in 2014. Next year, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day are on Wednesday-Thursday-Friday. Think about giving your staff those three days off, so they can return to work refreshed well-rested after a five day weekend. Either have your staff front-load' some time with a few hours earlier in the month, or give them the time off as a Christmas present from them to you.
I'd like to hear from the collection agents out there -- what do you folks think about collecting around the Christmas holidays?
Happy holidays everyone!
Blair DeMarco-WettlauferKingston Data and Credit