Early Out Services

An Interview with Therese Yakel Cheryl Pignotti, and Sara Komen of Early Out Services
By Tracy Hartley and Jeffrey Mohs, Creighton University MBA students

When talking to Therese Yakel, Cheryl Pignotti and Sara Komen for only a few minutes, it became easy to understand why Early Out Services, Inc., was honored as a 2010 BBB Integrity Award Winner. These three women fully embody the values and culture they work hard to maintain at Early Out Services, Inc. Early Out Services, an extended business office organization servicing the healthcare industry, works closely with its sister company, General Service Bureau, Inc., to achieve the mission of enhancing the financial well-being of others in a highly ethical manner. We were fortunate to sit down with Therese, Cheryl and Sara to have a lively discussion on just how they accomplish this mission.

How do collections in the healthcare industry affect how you do business?

“The healthcare, as well as the collections industry, are heavily regulated. We fall under five to ten federal regulations, as well as state regulations; whichever is more restrictive is the one we have to follow. We always follow the regulations. We always try to over-interpret the guidelines to prevent lawsuits. Healthcare debt is different than racking up debt on your credit card. No one plans on getting sick. We strive to be very customer service focused, but are constantly battling against the bad reputation rogue debt collection companies give the profession. We always try to do the right thing.”

Do you ever find the employee laws and regulations prevent you from doing the right thing?

“Oh yeah, all the time! We have our hands tied by the employee laws like you wouldn’t believe. It prevents us from doing what we really want to do, but we’ve developed a culture where people who come here are all good people; we are all ethical people.”

How do you ensure the people you hire are all good, ethical people?

“As far as our initial interviewing process goes, we do behavioral interviewing which helps us with understanding their way of thinking: “Do they think ethically? How are they going to act? How are they going to fit within our culture?” We test their trustworthiness and reliability. It starts with the interview process and continues on once they’re hired. There’s something in each part of training that ties back to our core values. We want to make sure when our employees get on the phone and are talking to someone and when they are faced with those dilemmas, they can think on their feet and do the right thing like we want them to do. We treat people with dignity and respect; we strive for these both internally and with our customers.”

Tell us a little bit about your mission statement. What does it mean to enhance the financial well-being of others?

“We spent a lot of time developing our mission statement. We wanted something people could believe in and that it meant something. Our employees can live it, from how we work with our customers to find solutions for healthcare debt to raising money for local charities. We enhance the wellbeing of others in everything we do.”

You have mentioned the culture of your companies quite a bit. Aside from your core values, what are three words that describe the culture for which you are striving?

“Fun. No one graduates high school and decides they want a career in debt collection, so we want to give people the opportunity to make a career here. In order for that to happen, people have to want and like to come to work every day. We like to have fun. Where else could you walk into a conference room and find feathers from our Halloween party on the floor? Open. We strive to have an environment where people feel comfortable talking with each other openly. Respectful. When we speak openly with each other, we do so in a respectful manner. We work to treat everyone with respect, from the employees to our customers. The whole place is like this. It trickles down from management to all the employees. We have had several employees, whether just starting or moving on in their careers, thank us for the opportunity to work at a company with such a great culture.”

How has your ethics program impacted your culture and organization?

“Since formalizing our ethics program with the help of the Business Ethics Alliance, we have had only three violations, and they all have become opportunities upon which we were able to improve our training and processes. Having the program in place has really helped us prevent ethical dilemmas because issues can be addressed before they escalate.

“Our toughest question usually comes down to „even though what we are doing is legal; is it the right thing to do?” We strive to treat our employees the same across the board and make sure we are doing the right thing for everyone. This was a challenge with one of our violations, but we responded in a respectful, honest manner, which our employees appreciate. It was an ethical issue, since management had to make a decision that conflicted with policies and what was, the right thing to do,” which was what the outcome was ultimately decided upon. Going back to the people we hire and the culture we foster here ensures people are ethical. People don’t show up at 8:00 in the morning and become unethical, our employees are genuinely ethical.”

You mentioned people don’t show up at 8:00 in the morning and become unethical, where do your ethics come from?

“From our parents and families. My dad was a very happy, generous person and always did the right thing. He instilled in employees that there is a right way to do this; we need to just help them dig out of their mess. Spirituality also plays a big part of our culture and ethical values.”

What has the Business Ethics Alliance brought to your company?

 “It has opened our eyes to ethics. I’m not sure we would have taken ethics to the level we have within the organization without the Business Ethics Alliance. They have helped us get to a point where we formalized an ethics program; where we brought it down to a level of our staff; where we were talking about ethics openly. We are able to understand right from wrong, and ask “Is it the right thing to do?” The Business Ethics Alliance is a community and provides a huge networking opportunity. It provides a good opportunity to work with other ethical businesses to germinate a strong ethical community.”

How does doing business in Omaha differ from other places?

“It’s just the Midwest. We do things on a handshake. It’s the hard working farmer. The “take care of each other‟ mentality has been passed on from generation to generation. It’s old-fashioned trust and reliance. You have to help each other.”

After the interview, we were given a tour of the office and it is very evident that the employees of Early Out Services and General Service Bureau really live their ethical culture. They have their ethics program posters around the office, a wall in which employees can post and respond to ethical questions, and even bracelets that ask “Got Ethics?” These two companies are truly ethical models for the Omaha community.