Hi Everyone!

It’s Hector and as always, it’s wonderful to get your emails about your joys and challenges of collecting.

I recently received one email from a gentleman, I’ll call him Ted, who has been struggling with his accent during collection calls. Ted is 45 years old and after living his whole life in rural Alabama, he relocated to New York City one year ago to work at a consumer and commercial collection agency.

When this gentleman was interviewing for the collector position, he felt very comfortable with the New York born and bred owners, who found his southern accent “charming.” They felt it had a folksy quality that would let him stand out among the other collectors as being easier to talk to. Moreover, it could have a disarming effect to debtors who may be inclined to become angry or aggressive on the phone.

Well, a year passed and for this gentleman from the South, it has been a challenging linguistic and cultural experience, partly because he has had to learn how to speak New York City English!

You see, growing up in his neck of the woods, there are words, phrases, idioms, and colloquialisms that can be misunderstood and cause confusion.

One day, Ted was talking to a debtor, a young man from the Bronx, who had not paid a credit card bill for about $5K and was getting annoyed on the phone. Ted told him, “Sir, don’t dill your pickle!” Upon hearing that comment, the debtor responded by becoming even more annoyed due to not understanding that expression. Although it means, “Don’t get irritated,” it was ironically making the debtor more irritated!

Then there was the time when Ted was listening to a debtor complain about not paying for a large order of one thousand pieces, only because it contained two pieces that did not meet quality standards. Ted felt that the debtor’s refusal to pay was unreasonable and responded using the expression, “Every dog has a few fleas.” When the debtor heard that comment, he was confused and asked what Ted meant. Ted responded, “No one is perfect.” implying that from time-to-time mistakes will happen and that the debtor should pay for the order less the price for two pieces. Unfortunately, the confusion still impeded the resolution of the claim.

Ted also found that when he was talking to non-native speakers of English, phrases like “y’all,” “I’m fixin’ to,” and “I reckon” were completely unintelligible. As a result, it was necessary for Ted to start planning his collection script only using standard English.

On the positive side, Ted did receive some nice compliments from both creditors and debtors who found is accent refreshing, as well as soothing to listen to.

Does having an accent or using idioms help or hurt collections? I supposed that when the accent is too strong or the expressions are not commonly known, they can impede the communication process. In the end, trying to modulate your speech to an extent that it fits the overall understanding of the debtors or other target audience is something that should be considered.  


Hector the Collector is a credit collection and human resources advice column by Nancy Seiverd President CMI Credit Mediators Inc. Your thoughts and comments (nseiverd@cmiweb.com) are most welcome! All Rights Reserved

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