In 1970, psychologists conducted several experiments with rats to test stress levels. In one of the tests, two sets of rats were involved. Each set of rats were in separate cages. All of the rats had an electrode placed in their back. There was a buzzer in each cage. Every time the buzzer rang both sets of rats received a small electric shock. Not enough to cause a great deal of pain, but enough to be annoying! The differing factor was the timing. For the first set of rats the shock came exactly two seconds after the buzzer. But for the second set, the shock came later – at very irregular intervals. Anything from two to sixty seconds later. The first set of rats quickly became used to the routine. Initially their stress levels went up, but after a few days the levels returned back to normal. The shocks became a part of life. A different story, however, for the second set. The staggered timing of the shocks caused their stress levels to increase quite dramatically – and stay up.
Question: Now, what have rats got to do with telephone technique? Answer: A lot.
I’m not suggesting here (however much we may want to) that we implant electrodes into late-paying clients and buzz and zap them at irregular intervals until they pay!! What I am pointing out is that you cannot expect to successfully collect payments if you’re on the phone to them on a daily basis. Same time each day’d be worse. Same thing if they know what your next step is. Think about the number of times that you’ve phoned customers and left messages for them again and again and again? Do some of them keep ignoring you again and again and again? If so, you’re the one at fault. You’re setting a very bad precedent.
Phone and leave a message twice, no more.
If the customer doesn’t return your second call within a reasonable time, email, fax or write to them. And be sure to mention that you’ve tried calling in your correspondence. All you’re doing is letting them know that you’re on their case and not letting go. Because, the more messages (electric shocks) that you leave, the weaker becomes their effect. Just like the rats in the second cage, your customer gets used to you calling, therefore, your calls (as a means of getting money paid) have absolutely no effect at all. You’re not increasing their stress levels or pressure on them to pay. And, if they get to like you and you get to like them, (because you both speak to each other so often!!) worse still, it’ll start becoming a social call and you give them a reason not to pay. ‘Cos, if they do pay, you’ll stop calling!
It’s exactly the same for “compulsive promisers” – customers that keep promising to pay, but never do. If you keep phoning and they keep promising to pay and don’t – same thing. Write to them, stick to the facts.
Excerpt from the original report
Four experiments examined the effects of stressor predictability on a variety of stress responses, such as stomach ulceration, plasma corticosterone concentration and body weight changes. Rats that received electric shocks unpredictably showed greater somatic stress reactions and more stress-induced pathology than animals that received the same shocks but could predict their occurrence by a signal. Subjects in the Unpredictable and Predictable shock conditions received shock simultaneously through fixed body electrodes wired in series, thus insuring that shock was always of exactly the same intensity and duration for the 2 groups. The results point up the importance of psychologic variables in affecting stress by showing that consequences of the same physical stressor can be markedly altered by psychologic factors such as predictability.