Debt collection letters are a necessary evil, but do they need to be so harsh? The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute thinks not. And under proposed new policies, using threatening language in financial services copywriting to scare customers into paying will be a tactic of the past.
For years now, laws have required debt collection letters to include warnings about potential court action to be written in bold or block capitals. The idea was to be clear about the risks of not repaying the debt.
But under new plans, these rules could be reversed with the government asking for debt collection letters to be less “thuggish”. It’s in response to a call from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute that the intimidating and complex letters were worsening mental health problems for those seriously behind on their debts.
We’ve been saying for years that all letters – whether about old debt or new regulations – need to be personable and compassionate to build long-term trust and protect the mental health of vulnerable people.
A quick fix or a complete overhaul?
Lots of businesses will no doubt respond to the proposed regulations by asking their lawyers to draft some new text to insert where the once red, bold and capitalised wording previously sat. However, we believe now is a valuable opportunity to reconsider the tone of the entire letter – to see if you can provide support and show you’re taking consideration for their situation.
Although you might not want to win back the customers you collect debt from, don’t forget that they have family, friends and colleagues who may hear about your letter. So, it’s worthwhile making sure it leaves them feeling okay about things rather than riled up or hopeless.
3 tips for softening the tone of debt collection
To get you started with your debt collection letter review, here are three solutions we stand by for every negative communication.
1 – Work around the legal jargon
Clarity is key and hiding behind legal terms will end up confusing the reader. In fact, the new government plans say that debt collection letters should do away with complex language altogether.
If you need to include certain terms for legal reasons, you can get around it by explaining what these words and phrases mean. Although it’s important to keep your letter succinct, taking a bit of time to explain complex terms will go a long way.
2 – Scrutinise your language
Remember, the terms you use every day at work are unlikely to be the ones your customers use. As well as cutting back or explaining legal jargon, try to remove some of the financial services copywriting terms. Simply switching ‘funds’ to ‘money’ can make a positive difference to the tone of voice.
We also recommend going one step further to give your writing a hint of compassion with phrases like “easier to manage”, “it can be difficult”, and “we understand”.
3 – Show how you can help
You might not be able to clear the debt – or want to – but there are usually ways you can help. And there are a few ways to show this.
If you can, encourage your customer to contact you, so you can discuss another arrangement and take them through their next steps. If this isn’t possible, point them in the direction of organisations that offer debt advice (this may become compulsory under the new plans).
Another simple way of showing you’re trying to help the customer is by using a question and answer structure. Draw out the questions most likely to be on your customer’s minds and use these for your headings. You can then provide a helpful answer below.
About Stratton Craig
As a financial services copywriting agency, redrafting debt collection letters is something we have lots of experience in. For content writing advice on how to tackle your most difficult communications, or to discuss a content strategy that handles problematic topics, speak to our team.