Why Collections Conversations have finally moved on from phone calls

by Mark Oppermann

I get to engage with a lot collections companies every week and have done so for the past 10 years at least. An interesting observation for me is we’re now at an inflection point that will change the collections industry and its’ activities beyond recognition There are three reasons driving this change which will have seismic effects over next 24 -36 months.

The first is 'us' the consumer. Consumers have access to and use so many different channels to communicate that it is getting confusing. The main protagonists are WhatsApp, Messenger, Slack, Skype, SMS, Snapchat, Instagram to name just a few. We live and spend more time on our mobiles compared to any other activity (except sleeping), and this isn't the exclusive reserve of digital natives either.

Collections teams are slowly recognising this fact and starting to appreciate that mobile digital collections conversations are not just 'a nice to have', but 'a must have' . This necessity will escalate rapidly over the coming 12-24 months. In simple terms you’ll achieve better customer engagement rates when you use your customers' preferred channel, not yours.

The second is AI and Chatbots. There’s a mountain of noise around AI and Chatbots circulating with wild predictions that there won’t be a customer service agent in a contact centre by 2025. Whilst it makes interesting reading, it's simply a classic case of over hyping of new and emerging technologies. The challenge facing the collections industry is “control and compliance” and most companies don't trust an automated chatbot of any description to handle the full range of complex engagements that agents deal with every day. Let me be clear though, Chatbots do have their place. As with most interactions, the 80/20 rule applies and automating parts of a collection conversation is very doable and a clever use of existing agent resources.

A simple example of this is automating the ID&V part of every collections conversation that takes place within the business. From experience we see 90% successful competition rates when this portion of the conversation is automated with a chatbots. Do the numbers – reducing the need for agents to perform this task (which is probably between 15-25% of all collections conversations) would free up a massive amount of agent resource. The beauty here is payback is immediate and your capability for additional scaling for business is delivered immediately.

Lastly, Machine Learning. Clever use of data is probably going to have the most profound effect long term. As with the noise around chatbots, there is as much and probably more around Machine Learning, so let’s strip it back to something meaningful and applicable to the collections industry.

Our experience with Webio's Propensity-X has seen our Machine Learning Engine predicting conversation outcomes within the first three utterances with a circa 85% accuracy rate. This allows collections organisations and teams to design better conversation flows with the next best step, or action personalised to each individual customer rather than a one hat fits all approach. The identification of real industry issues like vulnerability is possible and moving conversations immediately to suitably trained agent is the next best step/action.

Businesses need to start embracing and understanding what’s happening around them as failure to so could put their business at risk.

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