The Role of Psychology in the Debt Collection Process
The most effective approach is to influence human behavior…to plant in the debtor’s mind a flow of thought that passes from attention to interest to desire…and finally to the action wanted…payment of your bill. No two individuals are the same, just as no two claims are identical and therefore, there is no “cookie cutter” approach.
The debtor will pay only if his motive for paying is stronger than his resistance to paying.
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who studied human motivation. His research and findings are applicable to our industry…that human beings operate in much the same way when it comes to satisfying the need for what they want. A good collector will use this premise in order to understand the debtor’s situation. Maslow developed a hierarchy of psychological needs or stages:
- Self Fulfillment – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
- Esteem – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
- Social – belongingness, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships
- Security – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, freedom from fear.
- Physical – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
‘It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?
At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency’ (Maslow, 1943, p. 375).
Once we understand the above, we can then move on to what the debtor’s appeals are.
- Honesty – Goes hand in hand with the social and/or the esteem stage. Most people are honest and don’t want to destroy such perception.
- Pride – Can be used with the social, esteem, and self-fulfillment stages. Here you would want to make offers of payment arrangements that are sound and achievable by the debtor.
- Anxiety – This appeal goes hand-in-hand with both the security and physical psychological need stages. Show the debtor that there can be “light at the end of the tunnel” by assisting them with payment arrangements that will result in the reduction of their daily anxiety.
The collection relationship (debtor/collector) is at best an averse or reluctant relationship. What makes us professional collectors is our professional and knowledgeable approach to human nature. Understanding and employment of the Maslow Model along with the three appeals can go a long way towards successful collection efforts.