Fortunately, pandemics like COVID-19 are usually once in a century occurrences. The last time one of this severity happened, it was the climax of World War I and the Spanish Flu wreaked havoc across the globe. Medicine and scientific knowledge have made massive strides forward and our hope is a vaccine will be available soon for everyone.
The Collection industry really wasn’t affected by the Spanish Flu because it didn’t exist in 1918, but came into existence not long after, in the middle of the Great Depression. While Collections has come a long way via the use of technology and analytics, one challenge for which it was woefully unprepared was a contagious health crisis that required people to shelter in place and work from their homes. Sure, the technology to work from home has been utilized for decades, but it has seldom been used by collection agencies, using work-from-home agent populations, and many were caught unaware, scrambling for a solution.
MRS prepared ourselves for this pandemic in the months and weeks before it hit the shores of America. Needing a better remote access solution to connect with our first party clients and an offshore partner, we developed a cloud-based VDI which enabled us to get over 500 collection agents from three call centers to a work-from-home setting in under three weeks!
The hard part was done by the third week in March. Everyone was home. Now what?
We found ourselves in uncharted waters. Our management team had never managed a remote workforce. They were accustomed to being 10 feet away from their team and able to evaluate their daily performance and provide remediation with face-to-face coaching.
Our Operations teams quickly adapted to this new reality and settled into the rhythms of no face-to-face communications, instead relying on cell phone calls, chats and text messages to stay in close communication with their agents and to provide the support they were accustomed to receiving in the call center.
Throughout the summer, results were positive and we paid a lot of attention to employee morale and made sure that MRS performance recognition traditions and compliant business practices were not interrupted. The formality may have changed a bit, but we still observed them. For example: we hold an annual Gold Club dinner for members of our elite club that recognizes outstanding achievement in collections results. Since that wasn’t possible this year, we created an MRS Gold Club knapsack full of goodies including a $50 Visa gift card and scheduled every member to come to the building throughout the day for a picture, facemasks and all, with Saul and Jeff Freedman, the company’s owners.
We also created a new tradition born of the pandemic: gift baskets. The occasion: great performance during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
Kelly Feoli, MRS’s Senior Vice President of Third Party Operations wanted to reward top performers who have been consistent and productive through the first six months of COVID-19, so she created gift baskets full of treats, food, stationery and other gifts and identified the top performer of each client group or unit and told them that they were going to receive an award. The winner’s selected demonstrated high productivity, achieved or exceeded monthly performance goals and maintained exceptional call quality. What she didn’t tell them was that it would be delivered personally by the company’s owners and herself to show their appreciation for their amazing contribution.
“I love my agents and respect their hard work and dedication and just cannot believe the results they’ve achieved over the past six months,” said Feoli. “When this started, we had no idea how long this was going to last, or if it would even work at all. Here we are, almost a year into this with no end in sight and I’m amazed by the results of this fantastic and very dedicated team.”
Winning agents were notified and authorized a home delivery but what they did not know, they would be receiving a delivery on a scheduled day and surprised to see Saul and Jeff standing at their front door with a basket in hand.
“Many of these agents have been with us for over ten years and they’re the key to our long term success. I am so proud of them and the way they’ve responded to this challenge,” said Co-CEO Saul Freedman. “Plus, I miss seeing them!”
MRS’s operations floor is a vibrant and energetic environment, where senior management often engages with the collection agents and everyone’s name is known, stories about family are shared, sports rivalries are discussed, kidded and exalted, so this past six months has been a unique and challenging time for both management and the agents who are accustomed to seeing their co-workers every day.
Added Co-CEO Jeff Freedman, “Our agents continue to inspire us. This is a very strange and unprecedented time for our country and for MRS, and our agents adapted to it without missing a beat. We cannot thank them enough for their hard work and dedication.”
It’s be a crazy year for all of us. Working-from-home with new technology and juggling other responsibilities like child care, homeschool and hybrid education has created a situation that will push the best to their limits. But at MRS, our best agents have traded their stress for a basket full of rewards, because recognition is the keystone of MRS’s culture. We know that this pandemic will eventually fade and we’ll get back to being together in the call center, but when that will happen is unknown. What is known though: MRS values its people and is always looking for new ways to show it.