UX and design are important tools in TrueAccord’s tool box. Hear from our Product Design Manager, Shannon Brown, about how we design our product to empower customers and encourage positive actions.
You may have read our post, 866 is our number. In this podcast, our Director of Product Roger Lai talks about our customer facing decisions, how we think of our brand, and what it means for customer responsiveness and satisfaction.
This year at DCS we’ll be moderating or presenting in two sessions.
Understanding What Consumers Want
The consumer market is shifting. Where each of us once had one landline at home, we now all have cell phones and lap tops. Communication preferences have shifted tremendously. Join a roundtable to hear from peers about identifying consumer needs and how to respond to them in an ever changing technology and regulatory environment.
Strategic Implementation of Machine Learning and AI in Your Collection Operations
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence hold a huge promise for the ARM industry. Are they all they are made out to be? Will AI be the job killer some fear it will be? Hear about strategies and tips for implementing ML and AI in a human decision-heavy market like ARM, how to integrate those technologies to create real leverage, and how to combine ML/AI with your collections staff.
In December 2017 Bloomberg posted this infuriating story about a man who was hounded by phantom debt, and how his crusade took down a Bad Guy (recently sentenced to almost 17 years in prison). It’s a captivating story with a happy ending, but one quote really caught my eye:
Therrien says he paid back the debt promptly. He was offended by the Lakefront woman’s suggestion that he was a deadbeat. “I’m a person who believes in personal friggin’ responsibility,” Therrien tells me. “I signed an agreement. And I fulfilled my obligation.”
This quote demonstrates one of several key misperceptions of consumers in debt. It’s something I like to call “subprime blindness”, a deep seated lack of understanding of and empathy for the consumer’s experience, motivations, and psyche, and it has wide ranging effects on our ability to start, fund, and scale solutions for the debilitating debt problem in developed markets.
Subprime blindness usually takes one of two forms: on one hand the condescending “it would never happen to me” approach, looking down on people in debt. This group thinks of debtors as morally inferior, deficient people choosing to remain in debt. The other is complete disregard of the reason most people are in debt, assuming everyone can afford to pay their debts if they were only afforded a convenient way to do so. Many investors I talk to have a story about debt, usually missed copay or some lingering internet subscription. To the well off it’s clear that they, and everyone they know, would pay if they just got a polite message.
Neither approach is correct. The majority of consumers end up in debt because they lost a job, had a medical emergency, or experienced another significant life event. These are not careless spenders or malicious consumers who couldn’t care less about their debt. They are often trapped and are doing the best they can given dire circumstances. Subprime blindness stigmatizes being in debt and hampers any ability to offer long term solutions that improve financial health and build equity.
This is what TrueAccord is solving. Radically changing debt collection is just step one. Our product relies on a radical—yet simple—alternative to Subprime Blindness: that consumers in debt are experiencing a temporary difficulty, and treating them like valuable customers will not only lead to better debt collection results, but will also help them build equity to eventually exit the cycle of debt.
In debt collection, the language one uses in customer communications makes a big difference on liquidation rates. At TrueAccord, compliant content is the lifeline of our system. We continuously create, test and revise our content to engage consumers more personably—which drives better results for our clients.
Our Goal: Create a Better Customer Experience
Communication styles in the debt collection industry are typically stiff and unapproachable. Most of the time, it sounds like “legalese,” which can be off-putting, if not intimidating, to many customers. TrueAccord has a digital-first strategy to debt collection, primarily with emails, supplemented by SMS and phone calls to effectively engage with our customers. We strive to make our content informative, actionable, and compassionate.
Our mission is to transform the debt collection industry by helping people regain their financial health. Thus, our content is written to reflect that. It’s not accusatory or condescending, but respectful and empowering. We focus on finding solutions and helping people by presenting options on how to resolve their debt.
How We Experiment with Content —and Continually Improve It
Our proprietary content management system (CMS) was designed to help us craft and edit content based on massive amounts of dynamic data. We track everything from the customer’s balance, creditor, where they are in the debt lifecycle, if they’re in a payment plan, and how long we’ve been communicating with them to craft customized emails.
We constantly run experiments to generate the right content for each person. We try new subject lines to see if we can get more people to open emails. We write different calls to action on our buttons to see what drives better engagement. We also consider how far a consumer has to scroll down in an email or a landing page to get to the call-to-action button. If something’s not working well, we try something else. And our machine-learning engine—which continuously learns from our experiences—helps us customize specific and customer follow-ups that resonate. All of these small experiments add up to get us very high open and click rates from customers.
How We Keep Content Compliant
The debt collection industry is heavily regulated and is inherently protective of consumers, as it should be. We always look at communications content through a customer-focused and thorough compliance lens.
Our system provides code-driven compliance, appending the appropriate disclosures and text to automatically comply with whatever is necessary for each user, such as debts unreported out of statute or specific state disclosures. Our compliance rules dictate the content parameters for each customer, making it easier for our content writers to focus on writing compelling content. And yet, because there is wide variation in our writing styles, syntax and payment options, our content is still engaging.
Our legal team gives our content a final review, and we get very granular to ensure the message is clear for every type of customer. We look at the actual message, the email layout and design (including button placement) and even the size of the font for our disclosures. We write content that engages customers but also clearly lays out the customer’s rights and responsibilities.
This process is highly collaborative. Our content and legal teams work in concert to continuously adapt new scenarios to see how different options might come across. Our communications library constantly evolves as we keep on improving our customer engagement.
Think About What You Can Say
Most of the industry is focused on what you can’t say, but they’re not thinking about what you can say. That’s why we spend so much time perfecting our content and why we end up with such great response rates and overall results.
By: Vivian Chau
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
Our CEO, Ohad Samet, gave a talk at the Bank Innovation conference. There he discussed the overarching goal of AI and Machine Learning in banking, what it can do for consumers in niches that banks are leaving, and gave a few examples from our day to day at TrueAccord.
Sophie Benbenek always planned on a career in the public sector, and would be working on policy or for some non-profit if she had not ended up at TrueAccord. But helping people is still very much in her job description. As head of data science at TrueAccord, Sophie was the lead architect for the decision engine that drives self-service collections at the company. Read on to learn more about Sophie, her love of Marvel Comics, and why she likely finished reading this sooner than you or I did.
Accounts Recovery ran a profile of our Sr. Manager of Data Science, Sophie Benbenek. You can read it here.
Companies have many choices as to how they manage their delinquent and charged off debt portfolios. Options range from having an internal collections team, working with third parties, selling their debt to debt buyers to engaging the court system. Every company has its own requirements, so collection strategists must leverage the available options to varying degrees to optimize its resources, protect the brand name, and recover as much as possible while remaining compliant.
TrueAccord achieves extraordinary collection results because it’s designed to fit into any debt collection model. Here’s how we optimize each stage of the collections process.
Pre-charge Off vs. Post-charge Off
Creditors service their debt in both the pre and post-charge off stage. Some creditors may choose to sell their debt post-charge off, but more sophisticated creditors will often have a strategy with multiple phases.
Pre-charge off focuses on remediation and putting the customer back on track. The collection is on the part of the loan that is late, which is often not the whole amount. Interest and fees may be accruing while most of the collection work is done as first party, under the creditor’s name. Post-charge off is the opposite; most collection is done as a third party and no interest and fees accrue. At this point, many creditors believe the customer relationship has been lost .
First-party vs. Third-party Collections
First party refers to using the creditor’s brand, while third party means using the agency’s. The former is common in pre-charge off collections and the latter in post-charge off. However, savvy collection strategies make use of both first and third-party collections in both stages.
Historically, pre-charge off is considered to be “soft” collections while post-charge off are recoveries or “hard” collections. As banks and issuers see more repeat customers, they are moving away from “hard” collections, because better customer relationships means more repeat customers. Several issuers use “back on track” plans to give customers in debt an on-ramp to financial services through more secured/specialty programs or products.
Legal and Pre-legal Channels
Depending on the characteristics of the debt, creditors can take legal action by hiring a lawyer to review the accounts and determine which ones to pursue and collect. However, many creditors first want to see how the collections route will succeed before resorting to legal action. This collection period before utilizing legal demands is often referred to as a “pre-legal” strategy.
The TrueAccord Advantage
Our goal with every client is to help build a strategic vision and chart the most effective path to great returns. TrueAccord fits into multiple stages of a sophisticated collection strategy: first party pre-charge off, first or third party post-charge off, pre-legal strategy, and even as a champion challenger to debt sales.
We help determine which accounts to pursue, for how long, and what the next steps should be after accounts have been handled by our system. TrueAccord has a vast library of content and algorithms based on years of real-life collections data that fit into these various strategies to improve returns and increase customer engagement.
For large clients with diverse collection requirements, we leverage multiple strategies based on their existing approach towards their current use of pre- and post-charge off, debt sales, legal, and placement duration. TrueAccord offers a combination of solutions to make the most out of our strategy. Our debt collection automation technology, Heartbeat, can handle the account as a first party pre-charge off, then become a third party post-charge off followed by a call-center agency, or a pre-legal strategy followed by a law firm.
TrueAccord works with every client to optimize collections performance for the long run. We can help you build an intelligent, sustainable and successful collections strategy. For more information, check out our podcast page on SoundCloud.