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self-service portal for debt collection

The New Debt Collection: The Rise of Self-Service Portals with Conversational AI

Graham Bragg & Rob Johnson

How to Spend No More Than 35p On Collections 

Those who are leading the way in collections are achieving more with less by adding conversational AI and automation to their self-service portals. Now businesses can collect debt at a fraction of the cost and in a way that their customers like.

Without exception, collections teams strive to lower the cost per pound collected but at the same time try to keep the standard of customer service up. It is sometimes hard to achieve both together.  

Hard, but not impossible, and we’re going to explore further how this can be done. 

“35p collections cost” is a big claim – can it be achieved? 

There is an automation and AI "coming of age" in the collections industry at the moment. However, this idea of automation is not new, as other industries such as manufacturing and agriculture have gone through similar transformations by adopting new technology.  

But how do we do that in credit and collections?

The Secret is Smarter Automation with Conversational AI 

To achieve automation without compromising on quality of customer service will require smart automation. And by using technology, such as Machine Learning and conversational AI, collections companies can simplify processes while still maintaining a high standard of service.  

In fact, achieving this balance between automation and service quality is the key to successful collections in the future. 

How do you Get Automated Debt Collection Right?  

Humans are complex beings and there are many different aspects to consider when interacting with people, especially when it comes to talking about finances. But there are some practises that help engagement and improve the outcome. 

Use personalised messages  
Data and integration 

Personalised messages are a powerful tool to create a connection with a customer. At the core of personalisation is an understanding that people respond differently as we all have different personalities and are facing different circumstances.  

Skilled agents are adept at recognising the customer's mood and adjusting the conversation accordingly, and with sophisticated AI technology, AI chatbots are beginning to do the same.  By knowing the customer's situation, and using data integration, agents can create customised messages that resonate with the customer. 

Be conversational 
Understand every utterance 

Humans can easily understand what people are saying, and the same needs to be true for AI chatbots in self-service portals. Currently, many self-service options are limited to selection buttons, which may not always be effective. But by using conversational AI, self-service can be made more natural, resulting in better customer engagement. 

Offering proactive assistance 
Where is this conversation going? 

Experienced agents can identify a customer's attitudes and level of vulnerability by their voice. By using AI, you can also identify a customer's emotional state and potential to default on payments using sentiment analysis and propensity guidance. Knowing this information in advance can make a real difference in resolving issues quickly. 

Provide valuable information 
Depth and live data 

Customers want to know what’s possible and where they stand, and live data facilitates this. Having one version of the truth and up-to-date information can instil trust and create a more positive experience. 

Make the customer journey easy 
Use visuals and have a single journey 

It helps to use visuals when directing customers. For example, showing customers a code or number on a document, or using graphics to explain a process, can be much more straightforward than relying on written instructions alone. 

It's also helpful to keep the customer journey simple. Rather than breaking the conversation up into different tasks, try to create a single, cohesive journey that guides the customer through the process all in one space. This prevents confusion or frustration and improves the overall customer experience. 

Using agents to do all the above is expensive and time consuming. 

Human agents’ time is costly and having agents talk to people, and then sending them to another app or website to make payments, etc, wastes unnecessary time. Automated self-service reduces the need for agent intervention and enables customers to manage their own debt without lengthy agent discussions. 

conversational AI


Conversational Self-Service for Collections and Debt Management 

All this can be done for about 35p if you do it through a conversational self-service portal

How do we come by the amount of 35p?
This figure was derived from looking at our customer data. We looked across all our customers, counted how many interactions there are and the cost of each interaction, and the end result came to an average of 35p. 

When looking at customer conversations, about 80% of them are similar, with only a few variations. This makes them easy to automate and to set up self-service options.  

At first, consider which are the easiest tasks for customers to do themselves, bearing in mind that there will always be certain things that only an agent can deal with.  

Activities such as ID&V are perfectly suited for automation and in this case, entity recognition tech comes into its own, where the system can pick out entities such as post codes and dates of birth from within a longer text. Contact centres save 80% plus in agent time by automating ID&V. This is just one example of how automation can significantly improve agent productivity. 

Self-service with conversational AI uses the same Natural Language Processing technology as an AI chatbotRead here to learn more about the AI Chatbots: The Three Layers of AI Automation of Intent, Entity Gathering and Propensity Guidance. The AI needs to understand that there are many different ways to say the same thing and express intent, and sometimes a customer conveys more than one intent at a time. 

By bringing conversational AI into a self-service portal for debt management and collections, customers are helped to complete their activities - such as making a payment, setting up a payment plan or making a promise-to-pay - and the ultimate result is more collections and better customer relationships. And at the end, if the journeys are friction-free and don’t give customers a headache, completion rates are over 70%

Customers appreciate being able to access the portal 24/7 (actually, they expect this level of service). What's more, self-service is especially welcomed by those who are in financial stress as it lets them feel in control of their own finances and removes the embarrassment factor and the fear of judgment that comes when talking to a person about their debt. 

self-service debt collection

Read here for a more detailed look at how Webio’s Self-Service Studio works. 

Below is a summary of what Webio’s Self Service Studio offers. It really is simple to use with the tricky part going on in the background. 


self-service features


Key Takeaways on Self-Service Portals 

Smarter self-service significantly lowers collections costs
, but it must be done without degradation of customer service

Providing simple navigation and seamless customer journeys drive completion rates to over 70%. Conversational self-service is always standing by to help customers who get stuck, drop off or who have queries.  

Industry-focussed AI without the need for expensive development offers collection rates as low as 35p. Tech such as ChatGPT is not at the level where it can have conversations with customers about their debt. This needs to be crafted especially for this industry, using specific language and data. 

AI in credit and collections is not replacing agents but is taking up the tasks that AI does best and so helps the agents be more productive and successful while saving on costs. 

For a more detailed look into this subject, watch the full webinar: Spend No More than 35p on Collecting Customer Payments


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