It’s been almost nine years since I stepped out of the world of hospitality and into a life of credit card debt, bad credit and debt negotiation. I’ve left behind long nights, terrible working conditions, bad bosses and below minimum wages. Now I live in a world of bad debt, arrears, hardship and credit card debt crippling people’s lives.
Credit Card debt has become a cancer in our society. Debt, arrears and the affect on credit ratings is a huge consumer issue. Many people are using the equity in their homes to payout these debts but are finding there isn’t enough equity. That’s where the idea for my business came from.
Since my career change I have never looked back. It may sound peculiar but the similarities between hospitality and debt negotiations isn’t as far apart as one may think. Those 23 years in the hospitality industry prepared me more than you can imagine. I took away many things that I have utilised in making myself a successful debt negotiator.
But the ability to reason is probably the biggest and the most valuable one.
Working mostly front of house, I had to deal with very demanding and often unreasonable patrons (stressed and emotional customers). I had the unenviable job of reporting their dissatisfaction of the under cooked steaks or slow meal service back to the kitchen (Bank). And what was waiting for me in the kitchen? A very “slammed” and overwhelmed crew of Chefs, prep staff and kitchen hands (Bank staff). Temperatures in excess of 40 degrees, cramped working conditions and wait staff yelling at them to “hurry up” didn’t help the situation. (I suspect very much like the under resourced bank staff in Collections and Hardship departments).
I’d have to keep the kitchen (bank staff) onside and help them understand why it was in their best interest to take the meal back (look at the client’s credit card facility and current personal circumstances) and work out a solution that keeps both sides happy. The patrons (customers) have had to endure a long wait for an undercooked meal (charged exorbitant fees and interest due to unforeseen circumstances). What could I do to keep both sides happy?
See, it’s not so different to working with banks and clients. I have to develop and nurture a strong, respectful and honest relationship with the banks. I deal with them on a daily basis and need to think about the longevity of my business and future clients. The problem here is I’m often dealing with people who are trained to be unemotional. To think with their heads and not their hearts. Realistically, this is a sensible work ethic and I’ve learned in my years in business, that emotions don’t get you any further and in fact my lead you into trouble. You really need to take the emotion out of your negotiations and stick to the facts. However, the problem here is the other side. My clients. I build a wonderful relationship with many of them. I listen to their stories, I don’t judge, I’m there to help. They are lost, frightened and very emotional. I’m a real person. I’m a mother, a wife, a daughter and friend. To say I don’t get emotionally invested in my clients (or anyone in my life for that matter) would be a lie. It’s who I am and I believe it’s what makes me so successful.
So here I am, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Where do I go? What do I say when a bank knocks back a 50% reduction on my client’s credit card when I know they buried their seven year old child last year? After they spent six months in full time counselling, haven an ongoing battle with a Zoloft dependency and are struggling to get up for work every day. That their nine year old can’t understand why daddy is there but not really there. Well it’s hard, very hard. But contrary to what many people think and to what I said earlier, I think having that emotional attachment with my clients helps me fight harder. I know and understand that if I don’t do my best, if I don’t get the results I need, my client could lose their home. Could I live with that? After everything they’ve been through? No. I fight. I fight fair, I fight hard.
I deal with the facts. I speak to the bank staff with respect. I point out the consequences of a decline and help them understand that as much as I’m working for the client, I am also offering a solution to the bank for a client that otherwise “doesn’t pay”.
It’s a hard slog, like being on my feet for eight hours straight, carrying heavy plates, and mediating between kitchen and patrons all night. But it’s a rewarding one. Like turning someone’s ‘dining experience’ into a wonderful, feel -good night out. If I receive a good tip for my service, I know I’ve delivered the best possible result for the patron. Much like if I get that 50% reduction, it’s a step closer to solving a crippling financial problem. An opportunity for someone to stay in their family home, focus on reconnecting with their nine year old and moving forward to a brighter, happier future.
Should the emotion be taken out of negotiation? Yes. But we are human. We make mistakes. We need a hand up. It’s not the norm. It’s not ideal. But it works for me. It works for my clients and that’s all that matters.