Putting Customer Experience at the core of your debt collection strategy

Published: September 5, 2017 by Steve Platt

debt collection strategy

We regularly hear from clients that charge-offs are increasing and they’re struggling to keep up with the credit loss. Many clients use the same debt collection strategy they’ve used for years – when businesses or consumers can’t repay a loan, the creditor or collection agency aggressively contacts them via phone or mail to obtain repayment – never considering the customer experience for the debtor.

Our data shows that consumers accounted for $37.24 billion in bankcard charge-offs in Q2 2017, a 17.1 percent increase from Q2 2016. Absorbing credit losses at such a high rate can impact the sustainability of the institution. Clearly the process could use some adjusting.

Traditionally, debt collection has been solely about the money. The priority was ensuring that as much of the outstanding debt as possible was repaid. But collecting needs to be about more than that. It also should focus on the customer and his or her individual situation. When it comes to debt collection, customers should not all be treated the same way.

I recently shared some tips in Credit Union Business Magazine about how to actively engage and collect from members. The same holds true for other financial institutions – they need to know the difference between a customer who has simply forgotten to make a payment and one who is dealing with financial hardship.

As an example, if a person is current on his or her mortgage payment but has slipped behind on his or her credit card payment, that doesn’t necessarily signify financial hardship. It’s an opportunity to work with the customer to manage the debt and get back to current.

Modern financial institutions build acquisition and customer management strategies targeted at individuals, so why should the collection process be any different? The challenge is keeping the customer at the center while also managing against potential increases in delinquencies. This holistic approach may be slightly more complex, but technology and analytics will simplify the process and bring about a more engaging experience for customers.

The Power of Data and Technology

Instead of relying on the same outdated collections approach – which results in uncomfortable exchanges on the phone that don’t ensure repayment –leverage data to your advantage. The data and technology exists to help you make more informed decisions, such as: What’s the most effective communication channel to reach the defaulting customer? When should you contact him or her? How often?

The best course of action could be high-touch outreach, but sometimes doing nothing is the right approach. It all depends on the situation. Data and analytics can help uncover which customers are most likely to pay on their own and those who may need a little more help, allowing you to adjust your treatment strategy accordingly. By catering to the preferences of the customer, there’s a greater chance for a positive experience on both sides. The results: less charge-off debt, higher customer satisfaction and a stronger relationship.

Explore the Digital Age

In 2016, 36 million Americans made some form of mobile payment—paying a bill, purchasing something online, or paying for fast food, or making a Mobile Wallet purchase at a retailer. By 2020, nearly 184 million consumers will have done so, according to Aite.

Consumers expect and deserve convenience. In the digital world, financial institutions have an opportunity to provide that expectation and then some. Imagine a customer being able to negotiate and manage his or her past-due account virtually, in the privacy of his or her own home, when it’s most convenient, to set their payment dates and terms. Luckily, the technology exists to make this vision a reality.

Customers, not money, need to be at the heart of every debt collections strategy. Gone are the days of mass phone calls to debtors. That strategy made consumers unhappy, embarrassed and resentful. Successful debt collection comes down to a basic philosophy: Treat customers and his or her unique situation individually rather than as a portfolio profile. The creditors who live by that philosophy have an opportunity to reap the rewards on the back-end.

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