Recently a very interesting scientific paper was published that studied what messages work best to get people to pay old bills. In this case it was taxes owed.
While the paper is titled, “Ghostbusting in Detroit: Evidence on Nonfilers from a Controlled Field Experiment” it could have been titled, The Best Way to Scare Money Out of Debtors.
The results are not going to be a surprise to many and certainly help to explain why debt collectors threaten people – because it works.
And the message that collected the most money, wasn’t even really based in common outcomes.
As the paper says, “The response to the penalty salience message in this experiment suggests that compliance can be induced by a threat even if that threat is merely implicit. Based on evidence that taxpayers in other contexts—filers, delinquents, corporations—respond to threats, it would have been reasonable to guess that income tax nonfilers would respond to a message about the penalty for failing to file a tax return. The penalty salience message in this experiment is typically understood as an implicit threat: If you do not file a return, you will be fined or sent to jail. However, the message itself did not actually promise any action; it stated a fact about a legal statute that had not been enforced in many years.”
And that’s why debt collectors fall into the aggressive role playing position, because it works.