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The Six New Rules of Conversational Customer Engagement for Debt Collection

Delia Jones

Rising inflation, rocketing energy costs and slowing growth all point to a perfect storm of economic hardship that looks set to pile on pressure for UK households in the coming months.  

For credit and collections teams that are on the front line dealing with customers facing a cost of living crisis, it’s essential to strike the right balance between the needs of the business they represent and the customers they are talking to.  

It’s a subject examined in a report by Webio — Customer Connections: The new conversation rules for credit, collections and payments — written specifically for those operating a credit and collections team.  

The report looks at several issues including how best to communicate with customers who may be feeling the pinch.  

Crucially, the report provides practical help in how to engage positively with customers across the debt cycle. By broadening the number of communications channels available to consumers — and helping to make difficult conversations easy — the recommendations help firms increase engagement rates that positively impact cashflow.  

1. Balance digital and voice engagement

Customers want to engage in channels of their choosing, not those imposed on them by businesses. In other words, there is no single channel of choice when it comes to consumers dealing with companies to whom they owe money.  

That’s why it’s essential to engage with customers on the channels of their choosing — be it the traditional phone or email, or in what are increasingly the channels of choice, two-way massaging apps like WhatsApp, SMS or web chat.  

Crucially, customers should be able to move between different channels seamlessly and connect with agents without losing the context of the enquiry in the system. 

2. Automation will give a competitive advantage 

When it comes to using tech to help automate your debt collection, collections-focused conversations are lagging behind other sectors. And yet, when deployed correctly and with the right conversational design, automated conversations can deliver superior customer experiences with a fraction of the operational resources.  

Automation using conversational AI technology, like AI chatbots, goes beyond simple tic-tac-toe responses. It focuses on what the customer is trying to achieve in a conversation and figures out what piece of information is going to be needed or what actions should happen next.  

3. Empathy doesn’t cost, it pays

There’s no sugar-coating the obvious — conversations with customers about outstanding debts and payments are challenging.  

Research and work with clients show that businesses can achieve higher engagement rates and more successful outcomes when there is a conversational aspect to every message delivered. Put another way, the words you use really matter and nuance can be key to engaging positively.  

And while it’s true that empathy is seen as a human emotion, automated conversations can also display a level of ‘empathy’ by eliminating the ‘embarrassment factor’ of dealing with a real person and having a ‘conversation’ about something so personal. 

Automation that generates a personalised experience creates an impression of being listened to, with information gathered handed to a live agent so they can continue and offer empathetic support and guidance if needed.   

Engaging with understanding and recognition of the situation can be hugely valuable, sending messages such as “this may be a difficult time for you, but we would like to see how we can help”. Empathy doesn’t cost anything to your business but can be invaluable to customers and your relationship with them. 

4. Be smart with connected proactive messaging across the debt cycle

Being proactive with messaging is an effective way to engage customers. However, this engagement also needs to be personalised and deeply relevant to the customer. It’s vital to use the right message, tone and timing to improve customer responses. This is especially true for customers who are nearing deliquency. 

Which is why it’s best practice to use intelligent scheduling to send prompts and pre-emptive messages to customers about payments, renewals, outstanding balances, etc. And it goes without saying that any prompt should be made via the customer’s preferred channels to help maximise customer engagement.  

Let the tech do the hard work, so when a file is loaded the system decides on aspects including message type, channel, time of day, number of follow-on messages, etc.  

5. Integrate to add value to every conversation

The objective of integrating all aspects of a credit and payments operation to the customer engagement process is simple — to free-up agents from lengthy phone calls and let them focus on other more complex customer issues.  

There are many different aspects of your services that can be weaved into automated conversations to deliver business efficiencies while still satisfying all customer needs, including FAQs, balance enquiries, out of hours information, payment options and income and expenditure queries. 

Integration means that each interaction is an opportunity to deliver a better customer experience while maximising your agents’ time.  Using a solution like Webio, with 73% automated conversation rates, agents are closing 300+ conversations daily compared to the 50-70 conversations without automation at play. 

6. Blend conversational AI and agents for the perfect mix

To put it simply, conversational AI enables everyday customer conversations to be managed more effectively by automating low-value interactions and letting agents deal with higher-value conversations. 

You can use AI to manage thousands of conversations simultaneously across all channels and determine how best to respond, route and complete conversations. And if the whole process is fully integrated, it’s easy to route the interaction to a real person to handle if necessary.  

Webio’s Propensity Studio is out-of-the-box technology that helps manage and guide customer conversations. It identifies the most likely conversation outcome with a 90% accuracy and determines the next best step. Identifying vulnerability, for example, may mean you move the conversation out of the normal route and manage it more appropriately. 

Conclusion 

These six recommendations spell out how new technology, combined with an empathetic approach to consumers, can help deliver long-term success. For those already embracing best practice, their teams know they are well prepared for what is to come.  

For those yet to embrace these new solutions, the advice is clear. Start slowly and build up your deployment over the coming months to truly transform and unlock the potential of digital conversations. 

For more insights into how to successfully engage customers
about their debt download the
Customer Connections report. 

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Uplift in Payment Arrangements
42%
Increase in Agent Productivity
57%
Decrease in Operational Costs
48%
Increase in Customer Engagement

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