The importance of empathy in the debt collection industry

Topic: Finance & DCAs

Empathy is important for great customer service and experience, but especially in the debt collection industry. Learn how to take a more empathetic approach.

Being empathetic when conversing with customers can provide more meaningful interactions and concrete returns, particularly in the debt collection industry. Not only will this help you provide better customer service, but it will also help your customers feel more valued. This is why empathy matters – for all industries but especially in debt collection.

Why empathy is the key to success

Debt makes people feel worried, anxious, embarrassed and under pressure. Customers who cannot pay will often withdraw from the process, especially if they feel their needs aren’t being met, that they’re not being heard or if your bill isn’t a priority to them right now. 

This is why empathy is important. An empathetic approach to debt collection could be:

  • Listening to your customers – rather than asking “When are you going to pay?”, ask “Why have you missed your payment?”, This can help you better understand your customers and their individual circumstances.
  • Understanding that not all customers are in the same situation – for example, some customers will want to manage their own account while others may prefer more personalised, close support.
  • Engaging with customers – this isn’t just about talking to your customers, it’s about interacting with them in a way that’s tailored to their needs. That’s how you can gain and retain their attention. With discovery questions, you’re already on your way to building a better relationship.

The key takeaway is that you need to understand your customer if you’re going to adopt a sensitive, empathetic approach.

How debt collectors can become more empathetic

A solution that meets both customer and business needs

In our global customer engagement study, more than 37% of the 5,000 consumers surveyed would prefer to self-manage their financial affairs via a secure, automated system. So, consider whether your solution helps you meet customer needs. 

It’s not just about affordability; it’s also about providing the channels that make your customer feel most comfortable/confident when it comes to sensitive affairs, such as repaying their debt. 

And then also consider your collection team who need to be able to easily access the right info at the right time. Your solution should be capable of providing one source of data truth so your end customer receives a consistent, friction-free experience.


The easiest way to build trust and show empathy is to treat people like people. Use personal details in your automated comms to not only avoid sounding robotic but to help people feel less like a number/case and more like a valued customer.

Additionally, it’s important to keep your customer data up-to-date. Sending contradictory or inaccurate information is stressful and costly for everyone involved. So, ensure that it’s easy for your team to update and share information.

A flexible approach to customer comms

Be as easy to transact with as possible. This could be offering various ways for your customer to reach out to you, including an approach that allows them to self-serve or receive official paperwork via more discreet channels. After all, more than half of the consumers we surveyed prefer to receive finance-related paperwork electronically.

So, send them an SMS message (for example) with a hyperlink, let them click on that link, enter your digital portal and access all the documents they may need and give them the means to pay their bill by themselves.

Make sure your digital channel allows for the ability to:

  • Adjust payment plans
  • Defer a payment
  • Dispute
  • Enter/edit financial information
  • Apply for pause
  • Present a breakdown of the costs

All of the above can reduce the need for your customers to pick up the phone. This not only reduces the cost of that to your business, but it also helps prevent triggering anxiety in your customer, making the path to recovery much more seamless.

Technology that can help make debt collection more empathetic

There are many types of digital technology that can help you collect debt more sensitively (as well as efficiently). Here are some key examples:

  • Automation – bots that can triage and agent reflect etc can help reduce the demand placed on your internal resources. These bots can give your call centre agents more time to focus on helping the customers who prefer to ring up instead of self-serving. And for your customers who want to self serve, it allows them to respond when it suits them.
  • Mobile messaging – mobile messaging channels allow you to reach your customers where they already are. With engagement metrics like average open rates of up to 99% and a conversion rate of up 60%, SMS and WhatsApp can help ensure any critical alerts/reminders are seen by your customers. 
  • Digital portal – there is a real hunger for digital portals that promote self service. It places some power back in the hands of the debtor as they can engage with your business and pay their bills in their own time and in a way that suits them best.
  • An omnichannel experience – from SMS and WhatsApp messaging to live chat, email and phone, it’s important to provide the same level of experience across all channels. If your customers move across channels, it should feel like they’re engaging with the same business. Their customer journey should continue seamlessly, no matter which channel they move to.

Great customer experience puts people first

Whether it’s an unexpected change to finances or simply an overlooked bill, customers can easily fall behind on their payments. And when it comes to collection, being empathetic can make the conversation much easier.

To find out more about customer preferences when it comes to sensitive situations, like sharing and managing financial or health-related information, check out our eBook. It includes the key takeaways from our global customer engagement survey, alongside tips on how you can provide a more empathetic customer experience.

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Laura Haynes

Hey I'm Laura, UK&I Marketing Manager at Esendex 👋