By Rosemary Reeves
Imagine spending eight hours a day on the phone being yelled at, called names, lied to and hung up on. Meanwhile, you are under constant pressure to go faster. You must make at least 140 calls a day and do paperwork as well. You are on a computerized system that dials phone numbers for you, one after the other, and you have no control over who it calls. Your job is to persuade people to give you money when most of them are unwilling or unable. You're the last person they want to hear from. Many feel it's their God-given right to swear at you, throwing curse words galore into the conversation, because after all, everyone hates you. This is the life of a bill collector.
I became a bill collector after I was told my customer service job was being phased out. I had been laid off only a year before from a different job and I was determined to find job security. I asked myself: What would be the most in-demand job in an economy where people were being laid off left and right? Because of high unemployment, more and more people were behind in their bills. It made sense to become a bill collector in these times. But bill collectors are sharks, right? A person had to be made of steel to demand money from others down on their luck. I was a nice person. I was used to customer service, where I helped people. On the other hand, callers were not always pleasant in customer service, either, and I had experience being on the phone all day. Surely, I could learn to swim with the sharks -- or so I thought.
That decision was not made lightly. Night after night, I watched the evening news with its reports of economic crisis, high unemployment and foreclosure. I thought, "I can't let that be me." I'd just have to somehow grow a thicker skin, harden my heart and ally with the evil-doers of the earth. I applied for a job as a bill collector and got it, working in the collections department of an advertising agency in
I expected people to be annoyed, resentful and hang up on me. But I was astounded by the viciousness of some, who screamed obscenities when I tried to offer them payment options. Many times, I was cut off and subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse after just a few words, reminding them they were past due on their payments and how much they owed. Some laughed and said, "You're an idiot if you think you'll get money out of me!" One man mocked a co-worker's slight speech impediment repeatedly throughout the conversation. Another called the African-American bill collector in the next cubicle the "n" word. I started to question whether bill collectors were the villains here or the other way around.
Some used passive means to torment us, like stalling tactics. They would try to get out of paying over the phone by promising the check was in the mail already when it wasn't or saying they paid online through their bank, which they didn't. They'd say they didn't remember purchasing anything so we'd have to re-send their purchase order. Some claimed they never received a bill when we'd been sending them for months to an address they confirmed as correct. There were those who'd say they were busy right now but if I called them back in an hour, they'd make a payment then. I'd call back at the appointed time and get an answering machine.
I soon learned that the longer a bill was outstanding, the less chance there was to collect on it. People only 30 or 60 days behind often did at least a partial payment over the phone when I called. They were financially struggling, but making an honest attempt to catch up. Those 90 days or more past due were the hardest to get money from. Their names and tactics were familiar because each bill collector had accounts assigned to them. I got a knot in my stomach every time the automatic dialer dialed someone I knew was repeatedly abusive.
When the dialer was set on the 90-plus past due accounts, I was verbally abused all day. I became miserable, depressed and anxious. I would wake in the morning with trembling hands at the thought of going to work. The stress caused arguments at home. Then the panic attacks came. My life was a nightmare. It wasn't worth it. I quit.
I just hope bill collectors won't be calling me now.