Recently I visited Scott Millsap, owner of Automated Accounts, a BBB-accredited collection agency. The BBB is fielding more calls each month from people with questions about what a collection agency can and cannot do, and Scott graciously spent time with our Trade Practice staff educating them on the ethics and compassion a collection agency should practice.
He and his team set a great example, and he shared a story with me about one of his former clients. Yes, he calls the people he is collecting money from his clients. Refreshing, huh?
Kristina Ralls got out of a destructive marriage and, along with her three teenagers, was off on an adventure. She was working at a job she loved, finishing college and building a great life. She was accepted by Gonzaga Law School, following her longtime dream. That meant no more full-time job, so she reduced her hours and pay, and tightened the family budget.
But then she got very sick, and things began to snowball. Between medical bills, prescriptions, college expenses and the cost of raising three kids, Kristina fell behind and ended up in court facing Scott Millsap.
Scott was very impressed with Kristina. Several months later, when he had a collector position open up, he called her. He liked her attitude and intelligence and knew she was in law school. She went to work for Automated Accounts as a part-time collector.
Kristina told me she thought she would never work at a collection agency until she saw how she was treated by Automated Accounts when she was a client.
“The respect for the client is critical,” she says. “It is really easy to ask someone to pay $50 per week, but if the choice is paying the bill or buying food or medicine, you have to respect that.” And she said when you build a relationship with a client that shows them you care and respect them, the bills get paid.
Last week Kristina emailed me some great news: She passed the bar exam on her first try and is now a full-fledged member of the bar. What now? She knows there are not a lot of opportunities in Spokane, but with three high school-age children, pulling up stakes is not an easy decision.
She would really like to be a judge and was quite impressed by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese, who administered the oath of attorney to her. Plese took time to explain the judicial system to Kristina’s children, who were there to witness the oath. When she told me the story, it was clear what an impact that show of respect had on Kristina and her kids – and we all know how hard it is to impress a teenager.
It must be easier to be a victim, to blame someone or something for your situation, rather than to stop and pull yourself up by the bootstraps. And it must be easier to decide you are entitled to certain benefits and privileges without effort on your part. I know over the years of writing this column I have always received a robust response from readers when I take on those who live in victim mode.
I sought out Kristina because I wanted to write about her. Some days I feel surrounded by people who want something for nothing and demand things they did not earn or deserve. This story was a refreshing one. How easy it would have been for Kristina to give up her dream. She had so many barriers thrown up before her, but she kept going, kept reaching for her goal.
She told me she is in awe of her children. They are confident and sure of themselves. They believe in who they are and what they want to achieve. I have little doubt where they got that spirit.