There has been plenty of discussion recently regarding automation in the collections and recoveries industry.
In many companies there has been intense pressure to reduce costs and increase compliance/control, whilst maintaining excellence in customer experience. It has been a trend; one that has intensified and shows no signs of diminishing.
Automation satisfies these criteria well and at Arum we have seen digital processes, infrastructure and customer interaction are quickly being built into many processes close at hand. We believe in an opti-channel approach in collections and recoveries, meaning provisions of multiple automated channels from which the customer can choose the option that suits them, as this simultaneously provides efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Remember when we talked about call centres?
However, with all the rush to multi -channel automation we should also spare a thought for the humble collections call. Once the mainstay of the collections and recoveries industry, it can often now feel like the unloved process, cast aside for the bright lights of new technology.
However, whilst the volume of calls has dramatically reduced as a result of new channels; these declines in volume have been offset by increases in average call length. These have been due to regulation, more complexity in client situations and genuine desire to understand and treat customers better.
Far from disappearing, the dynamics of the call centre have simply changed and substantially in some areas.
Frustration on the floor
Particularly in Financial Services it seems, processes for Identity and verification (ID&V), vulnerability, income and expenditure (I&E) all need to take place before any discussion around payment, and with these calls now easily extending beyond 45 mins, it can be frustrating:
- Customers, are on the phone for extended periods of time
- Employees, do not like ‘just following the process’, they enjoy customer interaction
- Companies, find it time consuming and expensive
With up to 2-5 minutes of each call being spent on ID&V and an average of 20 min spent on I&E (longer than an hour in some cases…), it is little wonder alternatives are being quickly sort.
I&E, my financial life in 45 minutes?
Listening to employees and customers there is often feedback on the I&E process.
The volume and detail of information required through is extensive, collating the data time consuming, a regulatory must do that we just have to accept.
And, once there is a requirement for a customer to call back, be re-contacted or simply search through a draw to find information, cost is added to processes and customer contacts easily missed.
However, whilst this is a regulatory requirement, not all is lost.
To help, some companies are trying to push the work of completing this information off the call, by having I&E tools online. Other companies are working with credit bureaus to try to populate as much as possible for consumers, validating information as they go. There is ongoing work in the UK on producing another universal I&E template and there are even discussions, trying to agree a common protocol for sharing information between creditors.
Admittedly though, overall progress is slow, with change and agreement to change difficult. There is still more to do.
However, this does remain an area of significant opportunity, both in cost and in terms of customer satisfaction. It should not be de-prioritised.
Whilst it would be great to re-engineer the entire process to nothing, even shaving minutes off the call length can yield savings, and these quickly add up. It is a prime candidate for process analysis, optimisation and continuous improvement.
How much ID is too much ID?
A similar picture emerges for ID&V.
The pertinent question here is how much additional security is really needed for each interaction? For example, should a balance enquiry be the same as an address change, or making the payment be the same as transferring funds?
Some companies have multiple levels of security depending on the process requested. Financial institutions often also have secondary passwords, secure ids; some are now moving to biometrics.
Voice print technology has been around for a while (‘my voice is my password’), and we have also seen a couple of large corporate launches the last few weeks (with associated improvements in the technology), bringing it even more mainstream.
Some caution is always required if a single form of ID&V can provide access to all account features (the consequences of failure being greatly magnified if a fraudster has unfettered access to all account features from a single breach).
However, it is another interesting area and using the right ID process at the right time, there is significant opportunity to shorten call lengths and have more natural conversations. A customer and company win.
The value in people talking to people
Channel options, process automation, ID&V automation, I&E automation are all great technologies. They reduce cost, increase compliance and improve customer satisfaction.
Throughout this though, it is important we do not lose sight of the fact that customers are people too. For some, having a real person available to interact with, at a human level, is still essential.
This technology allows our filtering to get better, so the right cases get through. Automated channels allow people to self-serve if they wish; removing the easy, short calls leaving call centres with the complex, organic cases that really need the human touch. This human interaction is often complex, and something we, as humans, actually do quite well. It is a critical role.
Opportunity remaining in the Customer Call
So whilst there is, and will continue to be considerable focus on automation of processes, it is important we also remember the call centre.
It remains an opportunity and with appropriate process design and staff training is one that can substantial yield value. It is going to be here for years to come.
Chris Warburton, Lead Consultant