It’s never fun being contacted by people you owe money, especially when you know you can’t pay. I used to provide debt advice at a charity and often the first thing people would ask was if I could put a stop to the phone calls and letters, before even getting into a conversation about their repayment options.

‍Letters have traditionally been poorly designed and have used threatening or misleading language, while incessant phone calls can be irritating and intimidating for customers. Being constantly reminded of a difficult financial situation can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, and a lack of clarity around the available options can only exacerbate these feelings.

The thing is, once you speak to an FCA-regulated debt collector or lender, you’ll usually find a helpful, empathetic person on the other end. The problem lies not in customer support but in the journey leading up it. To successfully engage customers, companies need to put themselves in the shoes of individuals with debt and understand why they would ignore their communications.

People in debt are often under a huge amount of pressure. They are much more likely to have mental health problems, which in turn can make it difficult to carry out life admin on the phone. With this in mind, a digital communication written in a warm tone that is fully transparent about who the company is, why they are asking for a repayment and what options are available to the customer would be much more likely to drive engagement, compared to a formal letter or phone call.

I’ve seen lots of text messages that say things like “Balance £120, call now to discuss repayment options”. Most messages won’t explain which “repayment options” are on the cards, leaving the customer guessing. Plus, popular TV programmes about bailiffs turning up and taking people’s things away can hugely skew an individual’s preconception about debt collection. With a lack of transparency, individuals might think that “payment options” entail people taking away their belongings. To that end, it’s easy to see why people might think that ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away is the best option.

‍Of course, digital communication methods can be just as distressing if they are too frequent, poorly written or arrive at strange times. But if they’re done well, they can make a crucial difference by:‍

  • Offering transparency around solutions – hyperlinks, for example, can be used to take people to further information, visuals or animations that improve transparency around payment options. This can allow customers to build up knowledge and confidence before having to commit to anything.
  • Showing who you are – customers probably won’t have heard of you before. Well-designed communications and links to your website can demonstrate your trustworthiness and explain how you operate.‍
  • Putting customers in control – a customer is then able deal with their situation whenever it suits them rather than on your schedule. They don’t feel pressured to commit to anything and they get a chance to explore their full range of options without having to speak to anyone. Customers might feel the urge to get in control of their debt at 2am on a Sunday – and why should we stop them!

‍While an increasing number of lenders and collectors are incorporating digital user journeys, they are almost always flawed or incomplete.

‍Most commonly, companies only automate the payment section, neglecting customers who need tailored payment options or long-term payment plans. Where companies do have the ability to set up a payment plan, the UX/UI is often sloppy and the journey requires the customer to fill in a long budget assessment, usually with little context given as to why they need to complete it.

‍There are two elements that are almost always missing in a company’s digital journey.

‍The first is a ‘triaging’ stage that nudges different customers towards their most-suited outcome, all the while allowing for potential vulnerability to be identified.

‍The other is transparency surrounding the whole collections process and the customer’s options in simple language, backed up by visuals, audio or video.

In a digital journey, customers should have enough information to make an informed choice, be given access to view all their repayment options and should be able to complete the journey digitally from beginning to end without speaking to someone unless they want to.

How do we get customers to engage?

‍At our company, we’ve invested heavily in a well-designed self-serve digital journey that informs the customer and puts them in control. By developing quality UX/UI, we allow customers to dip their toes in the water and explore their available options at a time that’s convenient to them.

We provide in-depth information in our communications and on our website, explaining who we are, why we’re asking for money and what each payment option entails in a warm tone and simple, jargon-free language.‍

Our journey guides customers through a series of questions which ultimately take them to their most-suited outcome, as well as making it easy for customers to change their mind at any moment. This online journey not only makes things easier and more pleasant for customers who don’t want to speak to someone, but also ensures regulatory compliance as it removes the scope for human error.

‍We’re trying to make all our communications informative, intuitive and friendly. This allows us to provide a convenient and appealing customer experience for individuals while driving customer engagement, lowering costs and boosting customer retention for businesses. Win-win!

Amon Ghaiumy, Co-Founder and CEO at Ophelos

*Amin will be part of a panel discussing Customer Engagement at the forthcoming Online Collections Technology Think Tanks. Join Amon on Thursday 16th September from 9.30 am.




Click here to sign up for this FREE event and tune in to hear Amon Ghaiumy’s views at the virtual event.