Improving the debt collection process for consumers

There are lots of reasons why people miss a bill payment. Unfortunately, the approaches for collecting those late payments tend to follow a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, a customer takes a long vacation and forgets to pay his credit card bill before he leaves. When he gets home ten days later he already has five phone calls and two official notices from the collections department. And the calls continue for the next few days until he has an opportunity to call them back to take care of the situation. How does this customer feel? Frustrated? Annoyed? Under-valued?

The current collections process is outdated, especially in a world where personalized and relevant communications are becoming the norm. The collections process is driven by the measurement of delinquency and loss. Rarely does it consider the broader customer profile. Too often, this narrow view leads to one-size-fits all collections strategies and overly aggressive processes. Getting debt collection right is about more than the money. It needs to be about the customer. It’s about knowing the difference between a customer who has simply forgotten to make a payment or someone dealing with financial hardship.

We recently released a paper on the collections process, looking at how common it is for overly aggressive collections to lead to account closures and erosion of customer lifetime value. In fact, we found 3 percent of 30-day delinquencies in card portfolios closed their accounts after paying their balance in full. Seventy-five percent of those closures came with the payment to bring the account current and the remaining 25 percent closed the account within the following 60 days. Our analysis also showed that people with the lowest balances and the lowest amount past-due had the highest incidence of paying off their debt and closing their accounts. That means that by being too aggressive over a fairly low dollar amount, you can damage the relationship with a customer who could bring a lifetime of more business.

We also used our Mosaic® lifestyle segmentation system to do a deeper look into who was more likely to close their accounts. We found the likelihood to close accounts was four times higher in the young, urban, affluent population than it was with others. This particular segment usually has the greatest potential for lifetime value and are the hardest to attract. It seems counterproductive to let overly aggressive and perhaps unnecessary, debt collection end the relationship.

However, if we become smarter about the collections process, it could be possible to not only keep the customer, but also strengthen the relationship. Consider this, the customer on that long vacation receives an email that says, “Hey we noticed you forgot to make your last payment. Can you email us back the reason why and when we should expect it?” This creates an opportunity to build the relationship with that customer and get a commitment to settle the payment by a particular date. Ten days later when he gets back from vacation, he receives a reminder to make the payment and takes care of it.  Instead of feeling frustrated, annoyed or undervalued, the customer has a positive experience and continues doing business with a company who is focused on building relationships vs. simply collecting money. There is a real opportunity to take best practices around customer experience from earlier stages of the customer lifecycle and apply them to the collections stage.

Sure, some situations may require a more aggressive approach, for others, the idea of an email and the option to log on to a virtual platform to handle the debt on their own terms is the preferred approach. Some customers may not need options other than a little more time to pay on their own terms.  It comes down to knowing your customer and applying the insights we can uncover from data to handle debt collection. This will allow us to improve the customer experience and strengthen customer life-time value.