Technology advances are quietly changing the face of the Collections industry and there are significant implications for organisations that don’t keep up with consumer demand and recognise the potential both financially and operationally.

Customer Service as it stands is a frustrating business and rarely achieves positive results. Do you remember the last time that you as a consumer went through an IVR filtering system, listened to hold music and felt satisfied by the experience?

The ‘as-is’ customer service function has been largely persevered by a generation that still remember going to public libraries, browsing rental films in a shop and going to a travel agent to book flights. Times have changed. Now 85% of access to customer service portals is from mobile phones. Consumers are demanding the here and now resolution to their queries and are no longer interested in making transactions by voice call. (Mark Gait Head of Customer Services – O2) Gone are the days when companies can adequately serve their customers’ needs through elongated IVRs and off-shore call centres, often asking for three or four passwords or pass-numbers that inevitably lead to the customer hanging up.

Customer frustration is one thing, but what about the costs? From the servicer
point of view, regulatory requirements have intensified over recent years
increasing the length and complexity of customer calls, thus making the individual customer call one of the most expensive tools within the customer interaction toolkit.

According to figures by the British Banking Association, website and customer portals are now being accessed predominately from mobiles and portable tablet devices, yet few companies offer a way of communication with these devices.

Established, proven technology is already in place to completely automate the majority of customer journeys and will become inevitable within the next five to ten years. So why aren’t more organisations adapting to consumer behaviour? Is it worth the risk to be a late adopter?

The answer comes down to these five points:

I. Misunderstanding regarding the implementation of such technology
II. The “not invented here” syndrome
III. Our existing technology can provide an almost automated customer journey
IV. We have web-chat and two-way email, there is no business case?
V. We have an online payment tool and customer website. We’re good…

So, let’s address these issues in sequence;

I. Implementation

Contrary to popular belief implementation is not dependent on dialler or CMS upgrades. Two-way digital functionality is available as a hosted service – in its simplest form as a file in and out. There is no reason to think that your current technology is a blocker to ingesting this technology within your business.

II. The “not invented here” syndrome

Many companies have an IT department and an SMS / email gateway. Many IT departments are capable of replicating the two-way digital customer journey functionality. The question is why? There are tried and tested solutions which have been refined over years of client usage, that can be deployed out of the box with a simple in and out file integration. Why re-invent the wheel, especially when the wheel that you will invent with considerable cost will be two or three versions behind the “out of the box” functionality of those deployed by vendors with operational experience?

III. Our existing technology can provide an almost automated customer journey

The issue with the two-way customer journey is that unless it is truly automated, it won’t save you any money or provide any OPEX benefit. Subtle differences in technology functionality make a significant difference in operational costs; for example, the amount of emails and SMS that can be returned, correctly interpreted and a pre-defined return message sent without operator invention.

Many vendors offer solutions which save little because many of the call centre staff are relocating customer responses or web-chat when the better quality solutions will do this automatically.

IV. We have web-chat and two-way email

The business case for choosing the correct vendor is often overlooked. Having two-way agent-based interaction with your customers won’t save any money or make the processes more efficient, yet many companies talk to existing technology vendors and perceive that having one way SMS or email to their customers with agents answering them on a portal is the same as utilising the latest technology. Add to this the compliance burden and the alignment of consistent customer treatment to the organisation’s risk policies etc, and most companies need a second line of defence over the people responding to the customer. This agent-led digital communication quickly becomes more expensive than the current call centre!

V. We have a customer portal and customer online payment facility

Everyone offers online payments, however it’s common to see these under utilised and not delivering to their potential because of the following reasons;

• Customers are not properly sign-posted to the correct pages.
• The payment portals / customer service sites are not correctly configured for mobile telephones or tablets (despite over 80% of the web traffic originating from these devices).
• The customers have to complete a lengthy and complex ID&V, remembering
account numbers and passwords etc.
• The customer cannot complete an income and expenditure form online and set a flexible repayment plan aligned to their affordability and your own process rules.
• Your current facilities do not allow for payment reminders to be set by the customer at a time to suit them. It’s no good sending the customer a payment reminder on the 12th if the payment is due is on the 15th of the month when they typically get paid on the last day of the previous month and have no money in their account on the 10th.

These configuration and functional nuances combine to provide a benefit greater than the sum of their individual parts. These features combine to allow your customers to compliantly set affordable repayment plans at a frequency to suit them, without having a costly and lengthy call with your Collections department.

It’s imperative that Collections organisations embrace the inevitable. In the next five to ten years, agent-led communication will no longer be the norm. The 20th century call centre model is evolving and must align itself with the needs of the consumer if they are to survive and be successful. As a business, you need to ensure that you don’t lose your customers by being the last servicer to adapt and engage with the new technology.

Steven Preston, MD, Elanev