It’s an important part of doing business, but something that can be difficult to execute with excellence: debt recovery and collections. The heightened emotions, tension and uncomfortable conversations it brings – and the dissatisfaction that can result among customers and associates alike – causes some to shy away from this important topic.
But brands are missing an opportunity if they overlook this critical customer interaction episode, which has the potential to help customers and build loyalty when done right. As we approach a new fiscal year, which for many organisations brings new budgets, brands should prioritise making debt recovery a more human process and better experience.
To be successful, brands need to embrace a smarter approach. It is just too hard to win new customers and realise the maximum lifetime value for your business only to end up losing customers and revenue over what is often a short-term customer cash flow problem. Taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach to payment delinquency will introduce unnecessary friction into your end to end customer experience design.
Empathy, combined with the right training, will go a long way in producing better outcomes for everyone. A customer-focused approach can take difficult interactions and change them into positive customer experiences.
Now’s the time to focus on a successful collections strategy, particularly since many of the temporary debt relief and employment subsidy provisions that were enacted in Australia at the beginning of the pandemic have now either partially or fully wound back.
Here are four tips for a successful collections strategy:
The right mindset matters
Many companies approach collections by mainly focusing on processes and scripting. This can lead to robotic and detached interactions in which customers, who already feel vulnerable, can feel further alienated. Human interactions are an important part of the collections process.
Start with recruiting, training, and coaching for mindset. Every agent needs to understand the client company’s culture, its place in the market, and what it is trying to achieve. Instill in agents the mindset that they’re co-owners of the business when supporting customers. Ask them, ‘If you were the CEO of the company, what would you do in this situation?’
The most successful call centre agents, whether they’re customer service or collection agents, stay within the process and regulatory guardrails but also have a level of autonomy that allows them to conduct a natural and empathetic conversation whilst still negotiating with the customer.
Brands should remove metrics and quality assurance constructs that prevent agents from having an authentic dialogue with the customer. Measure efficiency metrics like AHT for management purposes only, and ensure agents are aware they are not tied to performance.
New employees should be made aware of the positive (and negative) impact they can have on a customer’s life. And when they succeed in providing a positive interaction which achieves the desired outcome, employees should be rewarded for a job well done with feedback and development opportunities that make them feel valued.
These days, when many call centre employees are working at home, it’s also important to establish regular communication streams; such as daily video conferences to review priorities and tasks. This gives employees autonomy while still ensuring they feel supported and able to perform well.
Make skill development effortless
Once agents are equipped with the right mindset and enabled with the right performance environment, collection experience and skill come into play. Ongoing training should make it easy for agents to develop critical skills in connecting with customers and content should be digitised and remotely accessible wherever possible. They should be skilled in active listening, mirroring, authentic empathy, questioning, negotiation, assertiveness (not aggression) and reassurance.
The key to better collection outcomes and a better customer experience is for agents to help customers take ownership of a repayment plan instead of feeling that they have been forced into it. Give them the skills they need to do this.
Keep it simple
How many elements are within your quality assurance scoring methodology? 10? 15? 20 or more? At TTEC we focus on just four core elements, which have enabled us to achieve fantastic collection outcomes along with strong customer satisfaction. Avoid creating a situation where agents are focusing more on your QA scoring elements than they are on the customer and the real conversation that is at hand!
Collections doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable or difficult topic for brands. On the contrary, companies should be investing in the right people and technology to take their collection operations to the next level. Doing so can boost customer experience, employee experience and bottom lines.