By: Vivian Chau with Ohad Samet
People with debt come from all walks of life. Some get into debt after losing their jobs; others fall behind on bills while taking care of ailing family members or dealing with unexpected expenses like a car breakdown. Because there are so many ways someone can be saddled with debt, we, at TrueAccord, have a unique challenge. We need to connect with our customers in times that are often difficult. For our content to be engaging, we need to make our customers feel understood. So, how do we write engaging content?
We start with empathy
The first question we ask ourselves when we write is: Do we understand our customer? We need to know where he or she is in the lifecycle of our communications with them, as well as understand his or her unique situation. Is it the first time the customer’s ever heard about the debt? Maybe he’s confused. Or maybe she’s thinking “Yes, I know about this debt, but I need more time.” We help people understand they have options. By opening our emails, customers can start learning about the choices they have in front of them, and if they choose, start paying online.
The four attributes of empathy
But how, exactly, do we “apply” empathy? We use nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy as our framework when we write. The first attribute is to be able to see the world as others see it. Can we see the world from our customer’s point of view? Our customers are diverse, from various backgrounds and locales, and so are we. We recruit people from different backgrounds, experiences and life circumstances to work at TrueAccord. Diversity isn’t only a way to tap into our unique talent pools—it’s key to how we understand our customers.
Because of our diverse perspective, we’re non-judgmental. We don’t make judgments about people with debt because judgment is not a part of what we do. It’s irrelevant to our collections strategy. We engage with customers thoughtfully and respectfully to show people their options on how to resolve their debt.
What sets us apart is our ability to engage with our customers with compassion. In our emails, we include phrases such as “We’re here to support you“ and “We can work together to find an affordable solution for you.” We are motivated to act with compassion because our mission is to empower our customers to make informed financial decisions.
Third, we understand our customer’s feelings. Money is a touchy subject. Debt has an especially negative stigma in our society. While unfortunate, debt is a reality of a society that relies on credit (similar to the common saying “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.”). Many customers write in to express frustration around needing more time and other payment options. For example, a customer has written to us with “I have a plan and will get to this debt as soon as I can, but I have to go in order of priority and you are not at the top.” Emotions can run high, whether that’s expressed through email replies or over the phone through our Engagement Team. While there’s social and emotional stigma associated with debt that’s not necessarily true, that stigma still exists and can contribute to heated emotions. We acknowledge that.
Fourth, we communicate our understanding of our customer’s feelings. One example is how our emails include phrases like “We know facing an outstanding balance alone can be overwhelming.” We need to write content that is not just engaging but also authentic because we cannot be empathetic without building a level of trust and understanding between ourselves and our customers. This applies to not just our customer communications, but our overall company voice when it relates to our product, our marketing, our PR, et cetera. Everything. That is why we are upfront with our motivation—we want to help people make informed financial decisions.
It’s a noisy world. We all get dozens, if not hundreds of emails every day. So how do we put these four attributes together and cut through the noise? By applying this framework of empathy, we don’t need to rely on cheap psychological tricks to get a reaction out of people. Instead, we use our content as an opportunity to begin a conversation. To engage and nurture our relationship with our customers. We are thoughtful and considerate of how we communicate, especially when it comes to a subject that has as much stigma as debt does.
We’ve found that when we engage with our customers with compassion, we get extraordinary results for our clients. And most exciting of all, we see that it is possible to make debt collection a pathway to financial health.
Vivian Chau is TrueAccord ‘s Product Manager for Content Strategy