The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has recently turned its attention to how businesses communicate with customers and the closing date to respond to their discussion paper on “Smarter consumer communications” has just passed.
As part of their research they looked at what some firms are doing and the FCA say that good practice includes:
• Communications meeting the needs of the product or service’s target market
• Effectively delivering key information to customers, using plain language, clear and short format, bullet points and clear graphics
• Utilising interactive communications using technology to make information more accessible through mobile devices, apps, social media etc.
Although the FCA did not specifically mention or focus on the debt collection industry, it is safe to assume this is included and there are benefits, to communicating better and smarter with customers in Collections.
Over the last 25 years, how and what is communicated to customers in collections and recoveries has changed enormously and the industry has travelled a long way.
In the 90s it was all about “whoever shouted the loudest got the money”. Considering the customer was very much a secondary factor (if at all). The strategy deployed across the industry was GIVE US YOUR MONEY OR ELSE. Letters and telephone calls were filled with business jargon and threats on what would happen if the customer did not pay up.
Thankfully this approach has long ceased to exist. The culture and environment that debt collection and recoveries operates in has changed for the better.
Optimising communication and harnessing an ever growing number of digital channels has been a core element of any good debt recovery strategy for the last few years. In particular telephony based technology has expanded and become more sophisticated, including automated voice (manned and unmanned), SMS to mobile an landline numbers including interactivity, mobile apps and automated self-serve web options.
There is much still to be learnt and developed in this space as not all channels are easily deployed successfully. For example customers receive dozens of emails each day and there is a natural distrust of the reliability from customers receiving emails regarding financial concerns so they are often deleted without being read.
The question I often get asked is “How do you get smarter with communications?”
My view is that businesses communication strategies should be centred on the 6Cs:
• Channel – Make use of all relevant contact channels effectively, driven by data analytics and / or wherever possible using the customer preferred contact method.
• Context – Is this in line with the communication strategy, does it flow naturally from previous communications with the customer.
• Clarity – Keep it simple, get to the point, using plain English with no jargon. Use bullet points and or visual aids where possible.
• Content – Clearly states the reason for the contact, what the customer needs to do and by when and how the customer can comply with the request. Offer assistance if they are unable to comply and also make clear the potential consequences of no response
• Character – The tone and the language used. Empathise with the customer appropriately, making it clear that help is available and that both parties can work collaboratively to resolve the situation.
• Customer Feedback – The most important tool available. Seeking feedback or using speech/text analytics on a regular basis to understand what is working well and what needs to be improved. Customers are after all who we are trying to communicate with and they are best placed to tell us whether we are getting it right, and what they want the experience to be.
Benefits of a smarter communications strategy:
Communications strategy will always be evolving due to new technology, regulatory pressures, cost challenges, customer expectations, etc. and it is important that the debt collections and recovery industry remains agile to stay ahead of the game.
Walter Mather, Lead Consultant