Debt collection and people

Collection of overdue payments: effective and people-friendly solutions based on Commitment, Innovation and Solidarity

Debt collection and people

In a difficult social context, a new model for collecting overdue payments is needed. More people-friendly, but no less effective, the new model has three focuses: Engagement, Innovation and Solidarity, as explained during a Smart Session given by Franck Etienne, General Manager of Collections Services – Customer Financial Experience products at Webhelp Payment Services.

Methods of collecting overdue payments are changing. They are adapting to a difficult social context, scarred by both an economic and a medical crisis. For businesses, the situation is worrying and delicate: what’s the best way to make it work? In-house or with a specialist partner?

Experience shows it is wise to re-organise the model around three focuses: Commitment, Innovation and Solidarity.

 

1. Commitment: to make collection advisors more effective

As professionals, collection advisors are accountable for the advice they provide, i.e. what they say to a client. Ultimately, this responsibility falls on the partner company. So the initial training and then daily coaching of these teams is crucially important.

Every day, these advisors are dealing with people who are struggling or unwilling to pay. So they are “on the front line”, displaying the brand image of the company seeking payment. Therefore, the advisors need to be extremely careful when using the three traditional phases – case analysis, listening and finding solutions! In addition, monitoring, listening and measuring systems need to be set up and properly managed.

Overall, the advisor must feel fully accountable and committed to his actions, completely consistent with his colleagues and managers and within the “spirit of the brand”.

From the customer’s viewpoint, it would be inadmissible for the credit company to provide responses which varied with the contact person or the communication channel (email, mail, SMS, etc.).

This concept of advisors’ professional commitment must be reconciled with the concept of trust.

Typically, the business of collection starts with fairly rigid call scripts. Exchanges between the advisor and the client are structured as they progress – which is very reassuring for a newly recruited advisor, for example.

However, switching as quickly as possible to other methods, such as the mind map,is recommended. This very practical and powerful technique makes it possible to visualise the client’s thoughts and behaviours. It is a live, adaptable method that benefits from exchanges between the various parties involved. This free flow of ideas makes it possible to emulate and constantly improve, increasing the competence and confidence of advisors – which ultimately results in greater efficiency.

And of course, in a context of working from home, whether hybrid or full time, this concept of trust between advisors and managers has become a key point of collective efficiency – the manager’s adaptability also being crucially important.

This new organisational situation will probably be perpetuated in many companies, the aim being a “triple win'” where everyone benefits: employee, creditor and end customer.

To meet this commitment challenge, a healthy trust between employee and manager needs to be put in place, rather than “command and control”!

 

2. Innovation: so that the advisor optimises the collection strategy

Too often, the keyword “innovation” is associated with new digital tools. This should not be exclusive: social innovation must remain the priority, as technology is there to be used for human performance.

For example, when carrying out data management analysis for our customers, we study many variables: profiles of overdue customers, behaviours and reactions to requests, analysis of reachability, creditworthiness, payments, etc.

In our experience, for this data analysis to be effective, it must be cross-referenced with analysis of the actual experiences of advisors and their managers.

What we find is that, over and above raw and quantitative data, it is the quality of the human interaction that makes the difference.

Thus the advisor has a key role in realising and optimising brand strategy. However, it should not in any circumstance be considered rigid, definitive and mechanically employed in a “top down” manner.

To return to the concept of technological innovation, let’s not forget we are now at the stage of enhanced advisor. This means the advisor can rely on a variety of automated business process solutions (or RAP for Robotic Automisation Process).

In practice, some repetitive or low value-added tasks are handled automatically, either totally or partially. This usually but not always refers to back office areas.

For example, there are real-time monitoring and re-transcription systems for conversations between advisor and client. They provide indicators that tell you about the quality of the conversation, such as its emotional content.

These monitoring tools can also offer the advisor tools to help with decision-making or discussion.

However, these tools should be studied or implemented with care. Within the Webhelp Group, experiments are underway, particularly in Nordic countries.

Measuring the implementation costs for these solutions is essential. In addition to direct costs associated with the acquisition and technical operation of these solutions, there are organisational costs to be included. These enhanced advisor solutions require very specific HR and managerial support. Careful preparation and then testing are required to create the expected added value!

Finally, technological innovation also applies to the omni-channel advisor. This advisor no longer only handles outgoing calls; he also handles incoming calls, emails, chat conversations, and sometimes even mail. This has led to the growing importance of writing in recruitment and training processes for collection advisors.

3. Solidarity: for empathetic support in line with brand values

Solidarity is traditionally defined by concepts of “social duty, reciprocal obligation, help and assistance, courteous collaboration between people in a community… “.

The brand must position itself clearly in relation to this fundamental value. This is even a priority in certain professions, such as mutual organisations and insurance companies for example.

And so in 2021, and probably in 2022, the brand will ask the question: “how are we to approach our clients who are suffering hardship in such a stressful social, health and economic context?”.

For its part, for several years now Webhelp Payment Services has been working in partnership with Crésus,a federation of 24 regional associations. Their mission is to help people who are in over-indebted or suffering financial problems. They also play a role in providing information on excessive debt and its prevention.

For example, this partnership has made it possible to measure people’s level of fragility in order to inform collection services and allow referral to appropriate support services.

In certain sectors of activity, this value of solidarity also enables the brand to play an advisory role–going as far as providing coaching. In addition, experiments between Crésus and Webhelp Payment Services will be extended during 2021.

Similarly, the idea of solidarity applies to teams of advisors engaged in a collective effort to improve service and share best practice.

To sum up, although there is a certain amount to be collected, it is possible – and probably desirable – to bring people into the relationship, while relying on technologies and tools that enhance that relationship.

It is also this empathy and this search for human solutions that over time will lead to a good and lasting relationship with the customer and a positive brand image! A relationship to everyone’s benefit!

 

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