Olde-Time Collection Tips: How To Persuade Debtors Via Email

The proposed change to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act -- allowing the use of email by creditors -- has caused a stir among consumer advocates. What if it is used abusively? 

Litigants who have pounced on abuses ranging from robocalling to nasty scripts are bound to sharpen their talons on collection firms that mess up in email (and some that don’t). 

Still, email is cheaper than phone calling, and far less annoying to the millennial generation.

That raises the question of how collection emails should be written. Does a creditor do everything it might do in postal mail, right up to the level of legal threats?

Let’s turn back the clock by about a century. Here are some enduring truths on collections writing from Louis Victor Eytinge, a direct mail copywriter, as described in his 1923 speech to the Advertising Club of New York. 

Granted, Eytinge was talking about B2B collections, but his advice holds true for B2C as well:

  • Personal letters build goodwill. Goodwill is the corner stone of success. Live personal letters are better than printed forms. If your debtor knows that your letter is one of hundreds or thousands, it gets very little attention. (In 21st-century parlance, that means no undifferentiated email blasts. Collection firms will have to adopt automated systems or spitting out what will be, in effect, hyper-personalized emails).
  • Business is built on credit. Every collection letter should be most carefully written.
  • “Find out your debtor’s mental feeling towards the matter. Why does he not pay? 98 per cent of business men are inherently honest. 
  • “Let your collection letters be frank, earnest with growing insistence. 
  • Get your debtor into good humor.
  • Never repeat a threat. If repeated, the debtor knows it is for what it is — a bluff.
  • Have your terms fully understood — clearly marked in invoices and statements.
  • If you don’t overdo it, the question is one of the best openings for a letter. It necessitates a mental response. 
  • In general, human nature is the same all over.

Good things to keep in mind no matter kind of debt it is.

Eytinge, although he had served time for a murder he probably didn’t commit, had a sense of humor. Working for Beacon Adjustment Co., he created a series of illustrated stickers to put on invoices. One pictured a man with binoculars. The copy: “Have been looking for your payment quite a while.” 

That could lead to a lawsuit these days. 

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