When we started working on our patented collection engine, Heartbeat, the industry told us: you’ll fail. Computers can’t collect. Humans do. The best you can do with automated communications is to drive inbound calls, so human collectors can “seal the deal”. Fast forward 18 months since our launch, and Heartbeat beats call-center based agencies in a growing number of segments. It turns out that computers collect debt pretty well. How come?
Debt collection is a numbers’ game. Consumers are ready and able to pay at different times, react to different stimuli, and need varying levels of support in the process. Teaching a machine to respond to these needs was historically more expensive than hiring humans, but as technology improves and compliance requirements grow, this is changing rapidly.
Humans are great at acting on intuition and responding to a changing situation. We act well based on partial information, guesses, slight changes in tone of voice and intonation. Good sales people do so without thinking. Humans are great at identifying and understanding corner cases and responding to complex inquiries. Machines can’t learn these things unless explicitly taught, and many of these skills are nuanced and complicated. Machines are “robotic”, for better and worse, and can’t have empathy.
Humans do have downsides, too. We are susceptible to biases. We make decisions based on the few past examples we remember and ones that fit what we believe. Collectors fixate on high balance accounts, worry about missing their goals, fight with their significant other and lose focus. Machines do not. Machines don’t forget a thing, and they always take as much data as available into consideration. Machines don’t talk back or get angry.
Historical attempts failed because they either tried to replace humans with even lower-paid humans, or tried to automate and get rid of humans altogether. We realized that a hybrid approach was the best one: machines make accurate decisions based on historical data when available, and learn from humans when not. Humans understand corner cases. We had to create a combination of a strong engine, and a team of experts to continuously improve it.
How does that work? When Hearbeat doesn’t “know’ what to do with a customer, it defers to our team of experts in San Francisco. They resolve the issue for the customer, and also give enough input so Heartbeat will know how to deal with the same situation in the future. The combination allows us to hit incredible productivity rates, while beating other “robotic” and passive “payment gateway” solutions.
Can machines collect? They can, and apparently many who are in debt prefer their targeted approach. When you think about the user experience, the ease of use and the automation, it’s actually not that surprising.