Lizards Can Help You Take On The Economy

Collector's Ink, Vol. LIII, No. 8, Oct/Nov 2008

("You see, a relationship is a two way street...you give, you get...simple as that." – Marijo McCarthy, Principal, Widett & McCarthy)

As the economic times worsen, there will probably be more and more opportunities for debt collectors to acquire new accounts to work. The flip side to that coin – and there’s always a flip side – is that payments will be more difficult to obtain because people have less discretionary funds. What this means to debt collectors and collection attorneys is three-fold: you want to maintain your current clients, you want the best accounts you can get, and you would like to find a way to collect a higher percentage in these bad economic times. We must find new ways to deepen existing business relationships and build new business relationships to ensure that we continue to receive accounts and work toward receiving the best accounts possible. But we also need to find a method of motivating debtors to pay your account, rather than another debt. And this notion caused me to remember a story I had read that highlighted some innovative ways to accomplish this goal.

A young man had recently moved into his first apartment. And as I suspect we can all relate to, he was grateful when his mother stopped by with leftovers. One time, she brought him lasagna. And when he later opened the container holding the lasagna, he discovered a small, plastic lizard on top of his lasagna. Confused, curious about who had put a lizard in his lasagna, he called his mother. She gleefully admitted to putting the lizard in the lasagna. The mother explained that she thought it was funny and asked if the young man had laughed. He admitted that he had. The mother responded, “Then it worked!” From then on, each would return the lizard to the other by placing it in an unexpected place. The action of putting the lizard in a special place to be discovered by the other person accomplished several things that demonstrate ways to build business and deepen relationships.

The lizard creates a memorable experience. The formula for growing your business, attracting new customers, or retaining current customers despite competition is simple: enrich the quality of the experiences you create for others. A person’s impression of a situation or of a person starts with attitude. It doesn’t matter how great or smart you are, or how much experience or education you have. A poor or average attitude is like bad breath; it can clear a room in a heartbeat and eliminate opportunities. A healthy attitude is like a fresh breeze blowing opportunities your way. This philosophy does not apply only to maintaining and growing your business relationships with your clients. When you think about it, I bet your best collectors are people with great attitudes who build relationships with their debtors.

The lizard was fun and created laughter. As a side note, laughing has been known to burn calories and enrich your attitude. Can you recall a single instance when you saw someone laughing, genuinely, that did not bring a smile to your face? Now, we all can’t leave little plastic lizards for everyone. But take a moment to brainstorm something different. For instance, parents have recognized the value of leaving little notes in lunch boxes. Another person may send a thank you card a day – because there’s always something to be thankful for. A client of mine sends a personal email to at least one of her business contacts a day. By the way, she uses the title of President and Princess of her company, which always causes me to smile. I suppose this is one aspect of the “lizard experience” she creates.

She also used to send get well cards to debtors who told her collectors about illnesses that prevented payments. This simple step helped to cement a relationship with the debtor, or at least some of the debtors because we are all aware that the debt you are collecting may not be, and probably is not, the only debt the debtor has. When the debtor chooses to pay one of his debts, which will he choose? My bet would be on the one where he has a good relationship with the debt collector. It may not work all the time, but if it works even a small percentage of the time, it was worth every penny!

The lizard also was a reminder to lighten up, relax, and live in the moment. The young man reports that when he was in a stressful situation and discovered the lizard in that unexpected place - say his shoe - the stress dissolved, and he was able to keep the stressful moment in perspective. Reminders to keep your lighter side alive come in all shapes and sizes. The key is to create a reminder that restores your best attitude when life gets out of sorts. We’ve probably all heard someone recommend posting positive affirmations – post-its on mirrors or refrigerators or computer screens. Or something relaxing like a walk, music. Find something that eases your tension and relaxes you, allowing you to return to a healthy attitude renewed and rejuvenated. And apply this to your collectors as well. They have a very stressful job – so what reminders will help them restore their best attitudes when debtors get out of sorts.

The lizard also created a deeper relationship. The lizard was a reminder that the giver had been thinking of the receiver. When you deepen relationships with clients or debtors, you move them from loyal to faithful. All meaningful relationships require attention. Whatever you give attention to grows and whatever you ignore fades away. When you value your relationships, you take the time to create and strengthen your connection with the other person. I think on some level, we are all aware of this with respect to personal relationships. The same is true with your work relationships. The same can also be true of the relationships that your collectors forge with your debtors. That is not to say that your debtors will be “loyal” or “faithful,” but if they pay your bill rather than someone else’s, that is a type of loyalty.

Whatever you choose to make your “lizard experience,” it can become a legacy if you maintain it. Creating a legacy is caring enough to put others first and giving them your best. It’s easy to forget average. It’s hard to forget spectacular. Spectacular creates legacies. Put your “spectacular” lizard experience into action and you too will create a legacy that will grow your agency and create a higher recovery rate too!

This information is not intended as legal advice by the author, June D. Coleman, or the California Association of Collectors, Inc.