How critical is ongoing training on your collections floor?

 

 

Training your staff properly is vital to any successful business. This is particularly true when it comes to debt collection training. Regulation and laws are constantly updating, and your staff needs to be at the peak of their game at all times. This special episode of Debt Collection 101 is all about training your agents. We're joined by Greg Ruffino, director of training at Williams and Fudge.

So, Greg, you're the Director of Training, you're responsible for training over 350 people which is a lot. It cannot be easy right?

Greg: Well, you have to have a good team behind it, but there's a lot of us involved in training that one single person should ever have to handle that many people, so you have a huge team but you know I helped design and create what makes that all happen to come together. 

So let's start with tell us all about yourself. I think that people want to know that you're from Buffalo New York. I feel like that's very important.

Yes yeah, I'm glad to be speaking to some fellow Western New Yorkers. Hows the weather? I heard you had some flurries yesterday. 

Yes so the short of it, food, beverage, restaurant management forever like many people who got to change up that lifestyle on the schedule, so stumbled into collections thanks to a fellow Buffalonian down here in the south. Was a desk agent for a couple of years, had some good timing and some good opportunities where I got into the team leadership side, had my own team about 40 people for a while and another opportunity presented itself. He needed over a big scoping game plan individual for the training program, and four years ago, I became the Director of Training. So in total eight years at William and Fudge, first four split between collecting and team leader, and my last four director side and loved it.

Good for you. So this is kind of is a layup question but how important is training to you guys?

It is vital. If you are an industry that experiences any kind of turnover particularly the higher rates, you want to help mitigate that, and your training needs to be on point. One of the things I think we'll get into is not just reactive training to the new hire or react to the bad audit but how to be proactive how to keep them engaged enrich their employees and give them a benefit outside of monetary value. Yes, people continue to engage you and teach you things as you spend the time you're hopefully a long time so absolutely crucial particularly in the industry that is never-ending. The software is always changing as you guys know, the regulations are non-stop, so we are honored toes here all the time looking for the next curve ball that will come our way.

So that's a great point right because you brought up that it's always evolving and it's always changing right. So how do you keep someone consistent? Like for example we have a salesperson who just started today. So we are training them this morning and then you know the fear is they go out on the floor, then they learn something that's completely off script from what we just taught them right? So how do you keep someone on focus?

Well, one thing to recall is all learners particularly adult learners you might say oh yeah three months ago we trained the staff on negotiation tactics or something and you check the box to say we did that. If you ask them a month later; Hey you knew that training media negotiations last month? They're gonna say, hmm was that when you did this? No that's not that one. 

So I'm always reminding that people forget very very quickly with what you just put a lot of time and energy into, so you can constantly have some sort of scheduled program, timely reminder, a time we refresh. There are a lot of agencies out there and enlist LMS programs to help do that right. You might not have to do that but whatever your method is you need to have timely things that aren't just done once and forgotten about because they're going to forget and life's crazy. We got a lot of content put in our face, and I need my content in your face often.

How often are you how often are you guys doing it? Is it depend on you know what specifically you're training on or how often are you touching base on topics?

So there's a pretty much difference between with the new hire onboarding and the staff members who've been here for six months to 20 years. Obviously, there's a big difference between that, but you have a very specific regimented program for the new hires that spend over the course of a few months of refreshing bringing branding information to them and with the tenured staff every single month. We're designing some proactive courses where it's a combination of mandatory which I don't like that word. People don't like that word; you know required. No one likes a mandatory right. Annual is a little bit softer word.

We'll have monthly proactive classes, higher education continuing learning that we offer to our staff that are everything from negotiation tactics 101. Remember your best practices for overcoming stalls and objections. Oh here, by the way, we care about you, so we brought in this guy from the local credit unions going to talk about personal finance. Oh, you have kids, here's someone from the Red Cross chapter down the road, they're going to give you a CPR of course.

So it's not just. Really. Yeah, you can't just cram job skills or job-related things into your employee's faces. Sometimes it gets old. One of the things we really like to do is proactive stuff that's not just work-related, but a little life-related. I think that's a big part when we talk about turnover or enlisting people to stay with you for a long time you know.

When you list all your benefits of why you should come work for me, everyone looks at the money; they look at the medical, the 401k, the time off. What about, what am I going to learn while I'm there? Am I going to get stale? Am I have to learn how to push a button and breathe into a phone and that's it for the next five years? Are you going to teach me new life skills and then keep me engaged. If you can add that on to your promotions, if you can have your employees compare this benefit to their last job, which they will do or this benefit to a potential next job, that might be the determining factor that says you know what, this company is putting the effort into me.

It's not just about dollars and cents. Who doesn't love earning some money, but I know lots of adults up there want a little bit extra and you might be the difference maker that says yes. Invest a little bit and do some correct training outside of hey you have a bad audit, and you got sued, you just got hired. What else might teach you and train you, remind you what would help?  Training never stops.  The minute that your train stops, you're going backward.

So as an example one of our employees in human resource, she's outside the building, she's big into teaching Zumba classes and stuff at the YMCA, we'll have her not only to just do exercises, 15-minute quick hits go up there on the clock and do some exercise which is fun.

A couple of weeks ago, we did a class specifically, and hey we sit at these desks all day long right. Believe it or not, that's really unhealthy habits so let me teach you about that. Let me teach you how to counteract that. How can I be healthy while sitting at my desk 40 plus hours a week and we'll bring tips and advice and best practices for people to say yeah, you need to know that this is not healthy for you. But on the other side, here's really easy things you do to counteract that and one other example, two weeks from now I've been class schedule called vacation planning right. Even you guys got that summer month coming up well. Yeah, a lot of people coming to coming to Buffalo on vacation.

Oh yeah. You know, hey you're leaving your desk, you're leaving your job. This is not just a job most collections right. This is a business. You own your own little business, so what happened did you leave for a week or so? Who was running your business? So this is a class that's completely related to checks and balances, get your ducks in a row. When you're on vacation, have less stress knowing that someone's checking your email. Someone's doing this and that for you and when you come back here's exactly what you should be doing, steps one through whatever to make sure that you when you come back, it's a smooth transition. Your vacation was well worth it, and there's minimum stress involved.

So classes and information just like that people came in and said you know what you're creating this content, you're putting into it even if there were a swing and a miss but you made an honest effort. People and adults really appreciate that things you do that.

I owned the store. When I was a collector, I owned the store. I sold that. I bought that. I collected debt, and that was my store. I love that. When I was on vacation, I want to know who's opening my doors, who's closing my doors, and we teach that in a specific course, purely for the benefit of the staff they would take their time off and come back a little bit less stress-free.

 

That's good. That's awesome. So I have another question. Correct me if I'm wrong but between the restaurant business and where you are now, there was a time where you were managing 40 people?

Yes, so my very first role here as a team leader is about maybe two and a half three years of just being your standard desk agent, transition to a team that would be what. I would consider a high need for training, whereas I grew to 40 people as a solo team leader before we enlisted someone to come on and get me some help. But I know all these agencies they work differently but at this point and our staff time is well, we give them a portfolio for the first time.

So for us a brand new employee isn't necessarily learning skip-tracing yet, they're not necessarily managing your personal portfolio yet. I took a second stage or kind of first promotion team, where now they're learning skip-tracing. Now they're learning how to manage a portfolio, and at that time I saw a great need consistency in changing our training and the long story of it is that's what helped me transition into the director of training roles. Okay.

 

So you guys are a huge company. You guys are way larger than a lot of our clients even so, how do you think the training strategy changes, if you're somebody else for just a total the whole company is only forty agents?

If it doesn't change right you're you're behind the times. Our software is constantly changing. In my four years along I've done more go lives on a new software implementation that I care to admit or care to recall and I know that the future will only continue to bring those things. So I love it we have a break of six months, or so we're not bringing out a brand new piece of software.

But anytime something changes regulatory, something stale, you're not hitting numbers or client, something's not right. It's the individual or systemic, or it's both. You better figure out, get your hands dirty, and a lot of companies out there just spend tons of money on compliance, on software, on emergent technology, and you've got to consider dollars and cents, profit and loss. A lot of the times training takes a backseat to spending money, and I've never stood in front anyone or speaking reference spending money on training. There are countless things that it can be little to no cost all.

A lot of these things that I referenced so far I've literally been pennies to zero dollars. I'm not out there telling you to buy a ten thousand dollar piece of software or program that's going to do it for you. I love that proactive stuff the only kind of investment is a little bit of time, a little bit of effort but if you're not if you're not changing your training your style that you're old, you're behind the times.

It's great to show potential clients look here's our training policies, here's what we do and it's not stained and yellow from 10 years ago. We just came up with this content. You know like you guys, I'm a big fan of your videos. I don't see a lot of anyone doing what you do which is impressive. Thank you. Yea, love your videos and um. Someone does. Yeah so you're so you're the one watching Yeah. No that's awesome. Keep it fresh. Keep it fresh. Your staff needs to be informed, information right, we know its power so.

So let me ask this, I have a logistical question. It's because obviously training 350 people is not easy right, so you do it once a month. Do you have a training session?

Oh yes. So one of the things how talking about Spencer was well kind of break between the reactive and the proactive. I hope and expect that everyone out there has the reactive category here. On-boarding brand new employees. A bad audit came through, a consumer complaint hopefully nothing, maybe a lawsuit and then you bring that individual you say hey Johnny you shouldn't have said this, you shouldn't have said that. Let's fix that, and off you go.

The proactive training is kind of we're going to provide this to you whether you asked for it or not, whether you want it or not. We want to bring those skills to you, but we do things that are annual, certain things that every single person the office, let's make it annual. The things we do monthly might benefit someone in the accounting or human resource department but let's let 's be honest here, or the rubber meets the road is the collection staff they're the revenue generators. The majority of the ongoing training is focused towards them, but we bring in the CPR people. We do the healthy desk kind of stuff that applies to everybody. I don't want to put some of the other departments in the shadows, but certain things that the accounting world don't change a whole lot.

Look at things that our client service representatives are kind of the same. Collection, the personnel, the staff, the teams, the dynamics, the talk off strategies are always training. So the main focus is on currently for us, maybe 250 or so collectors the other so fill up the admin roles and which I try to show them some love as much as possible. So the proactive training we offer several courses every single month and then whenever the need comes up or something we'll make it happen.

You just do like small groups and they just cycle in and out at a time?

We'll do anything from five people. I've had 150 people in front of us. One of the main goals that we do here, I'm giving you proactive training, you're off the desk, you're no longer producing numbers, you're no longer making calls, this better be well worth it, and if I go over 60 minutes, I fail. We're always looking at 20 25 30 minutes hit pop's, get you back on the floor. Anything beyond that you're going to forget. You're going to resent us for keeping you away from making that the next big money payment at your desk, so hit the points, be efficient, all to have well-designed classes and one of the things that I've been able to do over time.

Right, this took a lot of time to build up is I have a library now of my own personal created content that fits the needs of our staff. It's not just using an LMS plug-and-play auto-delivered to your computer take your ten minutes in and click on some buttons. We're going to personalize training programs quick little classes workshops case studies. I'll play TED talk videos for people, ten minutes, talk about it, and that's it, see you. Get back to your desk and use that motivation for you but all of this stuff is zero to no time no dollars and just a little bit of time.

I have a content of maybe 60 classes right now that if we needed to, I could plug in play and spin it and every time I do it just a little bit of tweaking I've changed this I update just a couple bullet points, whatever it is. So it's not like we are re-inventing the wheel every single time.

One of the things that started I was referencing a policy and training not yet a policy right and nowadays everyone is having policies in order; I often joke that we have a policy here that is about how to write a policy. Can't have a policy without a policy on how to write a policy. That made our camera guy laugh too. Right, but we have tons of policies, some of them several pages. A lot of legalese are tough to read.

But, about two years ago, typical situation and I would pitch this to the small agency with five or ten collectors or the mid-size of the large size this should apply to all of you. You have a bad audit, you have a complaint hopefully not a lawsuit, and you bring that person in and say hey you know seriously this isn't like you to say this not so friendly thing to the consumer. Why did you start saying that? She goes oh I got it off that training document. You go hmm what training document and she goes Oh Rachel passed that to me. Oh, let me see that document that she you know holds this up to it you and you go oh I remember that goes from like seven years ago. Yeah, we don't say those things anymore.

Here's what happens. Collectors are very creative. I don't blame anyone for this; they're proactive, take the initiative, they might say hey I got these ten power statements. Okay these are the things I say, my open-ended questions, my rebuttals, my overcoming stalls and they type it up, and they put it on their cubical, and it works for them. Great, then the co-worker sees and goes oh I want a copy of that and then the next thing you know half the staff has it. It's got some unsavory things on it. Yeah. Probably you didn't sign off on that, so we have a whole bunch that going on in the office.

So about two years ago, we took the initiative to write a policy and what it in general says is you cannot create posts or distribute anything without approval or going through a central channel. Now it's important that you don't come off as over authoritarian or Big Brother here, there's nobody likes that. What we do is that we say, we want your input, we want your recommendations. Come to me. It's spelled on the policy.

Go to the Director of Training with your ideas and I will have collaborating countless times with people to create some of our best content and one of my favorite things to do is send a staff-wide email and say hey thanks Johnny for helping me put this together for everyone's reference and resource. Now let 's publish on SharePoint, and that's going to bring consistent, consistency to your floor, you can show your clients exactly what you're training documents are.

Hopefully, you don't have a regulatory body like the CFPB coming in knock on your door. They can, and they will sit next to your collectors. They will ask them, "show me your training documents. What is that document on your cubical there?" And our defense would be, Hey, our staff sign off on this policy that said they know not to trade, create, or distribute anything unofficial. So now it kind of takes the burn off of you as the company that says you went outside the bounds of our operation. But I will say it's important that you let your staff know that your ideas are so welcoming for them and to make good on that and I will reiterate, my best ideas come from our staff because they're ones in the trenches doing this every single day.

I'll bring in five-ten people sometimes and say give me all your power statements. Give me all your fact-finding questions and let's just make the best of everyone's idea and say yeah my name might end up on but I'll give credit to arrow and says here it is your official resource document for XYZ category. If you're the small agency out there now's the time to get done, because it's a lot easier to police and get everyone on board with it. If you're the mid-sized to large size company, do it now. Better late than never because it will take time for your staff understand why you have that policy with what that means you never put an option.

But it may not be a problem for your floor, but nowadays we must be very careful of what we say and if someone has something posted and they say hey I learned it from here and I can't really burn on you for saying something that you thought was the proper thing.

So I'm going to turn the policy document that lets the staff know we want you to have all the tools you need. Tell us or ask us what you want. Let it come through a central point of approval, and anything you want as long as i's are dotted and t's across, and you sign off on it.

If anyone were watching this, I recommend you follow these guys. I've been watching them for a couple of months now, and I couldn't wait to meet Spencer in Asheville a few weeks ago in here. I'd be lying to you but if I didn't know that this would be the result to be telling you I like these videos.

Check out more information about Greg by Clicking Here to go to his LinkedIn profile.

Looking for more debt collection industry information? Check out these Debt Collection 101 episodes covering How to Add Value to Your Collection Agency and An Amazing Debt Collection Interview with Larry Steller.

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