In 2010, I was a subprime loan counsellor with Bank of America, Hyderabad, servicing the bad loans of the legacy Countrywide Bank. Our calling AHT (Average Handling Time) was 10 minutes, which I always failed to maintain. It affected my monthly performance and disappointed my TL. Colleagues with lesser call-handling time and to-the-point repayment plans were more effective than me. 

Despite everything, I was confident about what I was doing. I recall how the product trainer, Sishir, was disillusioned about me in the beginning. Indeed, I dreaded math and that’s what I was supposed to do; understand payment methods, call out minimum due, realize interest, and blah, blah, and blah. And amidst everything, if a customer indicated a foreclosure, short sale, or terminal illness, it was straightaway Cease & Desist and escalation to the legal team.

So, in one of the mock calls, the customer indicates her interest to repay the debt, but in the crack of the conversation, I hear, ‘remission.’ The interest to repay is to solicit the excitement of giving a repayment plan. Sishir is watchful; he expects me to get nervous over the numbers and not pay enough attention to the customer’s implicit crisis. But listening to those stories, although I hate numbers, helps me save the company from a hypothetical Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) violation. 

Mortgage counselling at BoA was soft-recovery and required an immense amount of patience and much listening. The debt-owners wanted to confide in someone, source compassion, and figure a solution to their tragedy. It wasn’t easy to ignore an unemployed father who pretended to be at the office to collect as many food bills to feed his kids. It wasn’t easy to counsel an old lady desperate to retain her property from foreclosure for defaulting payments. 

For the first six months, it was very difficult for me to cut short a person already injured by the recession to narrate their situation expecting a suitable payment plan or a penalty waiver. My AHT impacted my monthly performance rating. Sishir had almost predicted my short-stay in the company, TL and contemporaries made fun of how the most talkative one ended up squandering hours on closing one call. 

But you know, it was in Dec 2010 that BOA awarded me the PAN India Bronze Award for maximum debt recovery. On the performance funnel, I was on the top 10 across BoA sites in India. The recognition, eventually, revived my monthly ratings, restored self-belief, and seeded confidence in my colleagues that listening is a valuable tool and can save a person, a party, or the planet from a war. When you listen, you enlist your cognition to help someone. 

Believe in yourself and listen for good! Now those colleagues know if they should ‘listen’ or they shouldn’t!