Since 2010, household debt in the UK has increased by 7% and there are growing concerns that this figure will continue to rise given the sharp uptick in borrowing on loans, overdrafts and credit cards.

With the total consumer debt standing at £200 billion and growing at over 10% annually, an increasing number of households will be struggling to meet their outstanding debt commitments. In fact, the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) predicts that unsecured household debt will reach 47% of income by 2021. Every lender is going to have to focus on dealing with vulnerable customers sympathetically while maximising revenues collected.

Increases in household debt have helped to re-ignite the debate around vulnerability in the credit industry in recent years.  As a result, most collections departments will have a vulnerability strategy, outlining sympathetic, practical and commercially-viable approaches for vulnerable debtors. Ideally your strategy should look at the full range of life events that can leave customers less able to manage their financial affairs effectively – and how your organisation can support them.

Supporting your frontline contact centre staff

Collections departments can turn to many sources of external advice to help get their vulnerability strategy right, but what about your contact centre? It is vital that frontline collections staff are equipped to implement the strategy in a sympathetic way to help your customers meet their debt obligations.

We have put together a guide Ten Golden Rules of Outbound Campaigns for Contact Centre Collections to ensure your contact centre technology is empowering staff to maximise customer engagement and, ultimately, increase revenues collected. In this article, I want to focus on three key areas, which will become increasingly important as more customers slip into the vulnerable category.

Training

The initial response provided by frontline staff is obviously crucial to the customer experience, which is vital for good outcomes. So, training your contact centre teams to deal with vulnerability is key. As well as treating customers fairly, your agents should be encouraged to show empathy and sensitivity. 

By focusing on building constructive relationships with your debtors, your agents will help to generate trust and long-term loyalty while also encouraging them to give your brand preference over others they may owe money to. And to be fair, the value of this approach will spread beyond your vulnerable customers to your entire customer base, with the potential to significantly increase revenues recovered, but also build long-term brand reputation.

Empowerment

The right contact centre system can do a lot to empower your customer-facing staff to match their natural instinct to help debtors identify the right approach for specific situations. Rather than relying on inflexible and robotic call centre scripts, it is vital to empower staff with a more flexible approach, guiding them through the conversation and ensuring compliance needs are met, while still giving them the opportunity to respond to the individual situation each customer is facing.

Our cloud platform, West Cloud Contact Pro, allows supervisors and managers to develop dynamic call scripts that offer a range of options for every conversation while still enabling consistent, confident and compliant communications. By empowering staff to use discretion and apply a flexible, tailored response rather than be inhibited by rigid policies, you will increase job satisfaction and even agent retention, as well as successful outcomes.

The collections conversation is obviously critical to successfully recovering revenues. By creating contact centre tools that treat customers fairly and focus on making the conversation as rewarding as possible for both parties, you will help to create loyal customers and brand advocates, while ensuring you maximise revenue collected.

Removing barriers

It is important to remember that many debtors will already be feeling the pressure, so make sure your contact centre processes do not alienate or intimidate them unnecessarily. The right technology platform can do a lot to support your staff in this respect. For example, it may sound obvious but the first challenge for collecting debt is to establish contact with debtors. 

By understanding their communication preferences, you can increase the chances of initiating a dialogue. The majority of today’s consumers will choose the mobile as their primary communications tool and may opt for digital channels over voice if given the opportunity.

Research shows that email and SMS can be extremely useful for tracing and making initial contact with debtors who might ignore a phone call. And of course, these channels can help to reduce costs by using your human resources more efficiently. Yet many credit collections activities still focus on calling the landline, resulting in time wasted trying to connect.

Mobile communications can play a valuable role in your customer centric collections strategy and with our number screening technology which filters out invalid numbers, it is even easier for agents to win back valuable time and speak to those that are available. Many people will make a payment action in response to a mobile communication, rather than mulling over a stack of bills and trying to work out which to pay first.

Digital channels also offer huge potential to reduce costs and improve collections performance. A flexible outbound system will allow you to integrate digital channels within your debt collection strategy to help improve your debt collection recovery rate. Statistics gathered from YouGov, Demos and Ofcom reveal that 75% of debtors in the UK are aged under 45, a demographic which is very comfortable with digital channels.

By applying some of the advice in this article, organisations have a huge opportunity to build better customer engagement and remove some of the the widely-held fear and cynicism consumers feel towards the consumer credit industry. By empowering agents to provide every debtor with a sympathetic and informed customer experience, your customers will be reassured that you are working together to resolve their problems and help prevent their financial affairs spiraling out of control. As we enter a period of greater economic uncertainty, it is worth reviewing our contact centre practices and putting our collections activity on the right foot for the road ahead.

Enda Kenneally, VP Sales & Business Development at West’s Unified Communications Services

Enda Kenneally