TrueAccord beats traditional agency performance, and does so by using a machine learning based, digital first system. Since our system learns from individual consumer behavior, it requires specific pilot design to provide the right amount of data for the algorithms to tune themselves. In this episode, our Head of Client Services and Head of Data Science discuss the optimal pilot structure to make the best use of our platform.
TrueAccord’s machine learning based system handles millions of consumer interactions a month and is growing fast. In this podcast, hear our Head of Engineering Mike Higuera talk about scaling challenges, prioritizing work on bugs vs. features, and other pressing topics he’s had to deal with while building our system.
Our CCO and In House Counsel discuss 2017 litigation and complaints trends for the industry in general and TrueAccord specifically. We discuss the reasons why TrueAccord’s legal risk and exposure are so much smaller than the industry’s average.
Bonus addition: TrueAccord’s CCO, Tim Collins, reviewing trends in WebRecon’s January 2018 litigation and complaints trends report.
“I think no matter what direction you look at it from, debt collection in the United States is just broken. Because it takes consumers who want to pay, who could pay and turns them into customers that can’t,” noted TrueAccord CEO and Co-Founder Ohad Samet.
As an innovator looking to fix the broken system by using data as a substitute for “draconian collection methods,” Samet’s position on this issue is expected.
But it’s a position he shares with an unexpected regulatory source: CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney.
Read more in this link from PYMNTS.
Innovative automation processes are finally gaining traction in debt collection, as companies increasingly distance themselves from costly and unmanageable call centers. And now, with an eye on continuous process improvement, a new focus on experimentation is enhancing the way these companies recover revenue and create a more effective user experience. Experimentation engines – whereby various collection scenarios and features are tested and evaluated based on real-time data – empower creative and customized contact and offer strategies that improve liquidation as well as customer satisfaction.
Typical Challenges for the Call Center Model
The traditional debt collection call center model faces multiple challenges. Because of their commission compensation model, collection agents often use aggressive tactics on the phone, pushing for an immediate lump sum payment, or a short-term installment option to speed payment. Even if the consumer picks up the phone at all (which in today’s smartphone culture is becoming far less likely), they feel pressured and may commit to a plan they simply can’t afford. The result is an installment plan that breaks, many times after the first payment, and consumers often charge back the phone payment because they felt antagonized about being pressured to begin with. The call center cost structure also cannot afford to support highly customized plans with irregular payment schedules, missing out on another segment of consumers. All of these add up to a significant disadvantage given today’s consumers and their financial needs.
Flip the System on It Head with a Machine Learning Based Approach
The modern approach to debt collection is omnichannel, digital-first, consumer-centric and leverages data and experimentation to determine the best course of action based on consumer preference and behavior.
TrueAccord’s system communicates with consumers automatically through a wide range of digital channels, including email, text and social channels. And because it’s digital-first and fully reactive to consumer behavior and preferences, it’s a far less aggressive, much more personalized collection environment that delivers superior results when competing with call centers. Historical data collected over several years, combined with machine learning algorithms that evaluate individual behavior and preferences, enables this highly targeted and personalized treatment. Two to three email interactions per week serve as a baseline, with added channels in support and reactive communications responding to consumer interactions when needed.
This approach is also highly collaborative, focused on educating consumers and treating them the way they want to be treated. When they’re ready to commit to a plan, they just view payment options online and choose the one that makes the most sense. The result is higher liquidation rates in the long run, higher payer rates, and higher consumer satisfaction that leads to fewer complaints.
Machine Learning Drives the Experimentation Engine
The most important asset in the TrueAccord model is the data collected and analyzed over time that enables us to accurately predict what messages people respond to, what payment offers work best, and for which type of consumer. This complex data-driven system is part of our DNA and entails a lot of moving parts that allow us to truly understand what resonates with each consumer.
The driving force behind the system’s ever evolving performance is an experimentation engine that allows us to test various scenarios to see how collection processes work and how they can be improved. Since digital-first channels are highly instrumented and offer real time tracking on our website, we can learn in short cycles and continuously improve. To launch an experiment, we establish a hypothesis we want to test, monitor what’s happening in the conversion funnel at each touchpoint, see how each product or plan is being used and where consumers are dropping off. Even when an experiment fails, we learn from the data and make future iterations in a continually improving system. We partner strategically with our clients to customize experiments for their product lines and make experimentation-based optimization an ongoing process.
A few sample experiments:
Aligning Payments to Income
The number one reason payment plans fail is consumers don’t have enough money on their card or in their bank account. Our hypothesis was that if you align debt payments with paydays, consumers are more likely to have funds available, and payment plan breakage is reduced. The experiment tested three scenarios: one as a control, one defaulting to payments on Fridays and one where consumers used a date-picker to align with their actual payday. After testing and analysis, we found that the date-picker approach worked best, lowering breakage without negatively impacting conversion.
Self-service Payment Experiences Reduce Costs and Breakage
Consumers with debt often can’t always predict when they’ll be paid or how much. Our hypothesis was that by allowing them to self-service their payment plans and make modifications along the way (based on changes in their lives), we would reduce the need for interaction and improve the customer experience while reducing breakage. This experiment was also a success, reducing breakage rate, and also lowering call rates because before its launch, consumers had to call to change their plan. By making the desired functionality readily available, we were able to increase payment plan success rate and save agent time.
Even Failures Are a Learning Experience
One hypothesis we tested was that customers that dropped off our radar after not choosing a plan could be enticed to sign up for a new plan if offered longer payment plans. After sending texts and emails based on their behavior, we found that new sign ups simply didn’t materialize by just offering longer payment plans with referring to the consumer’s specific life situation. The offers had a high open and click rates, but not sign ups. This indicated that we were on the right track but needed to iterate and come up with an alternative solution.
An experimentation engine allows every company to test their own hypotheses to see if their customized solutions work or not. A digital-first, highly instrumented experience allows us to run dozens of experiments concurrently, learning from each experiment so we can progressively improve our experience and results. Even when experiments fails, they unearth insights that can be used to improve performance next time as part of follow on experiments. In the world of debt collection, testing and continuous improvement means better results in the long run.
Looking for our consumer survey? Now you can download it directly in this link.
Sending emails to millions of consumers is a hard problem. Sending them to millions of consumers in debt is harder. Learn what makes this a hard problem and how TrueAccord solves it as we scale email delivery to millions of consumers.
To download the episode’s transcript, click here.
Our Senior Product Manager, Julie Hughes, gave a talk about TrueAccord’s product and experimentation approach at the FinTech Devs & PMs meetup. Here’s what the host had to say about the talk:
TrueAccord talked about how they are modernizing and humanizing the debt collection industry. For consumers this means instead of harassing phone calls from agents, you get a web form that allows you to control your repayment scheme by adjusting the term of the payback and scheduling auto-drafts when you know you’ll have the money, such as on a payday. For businesses, this results in higher collection rates without compromising your brand by turning over charged off accounts to sometimes predatory collection agencies. In particular, TrueAccord did a deep dive on how their scheduled payment feature allowed users to avoid overdrafts and help retire their past due accounts faster.
You can watch the video below.
As is often the case in evolving industries, it takes time for technology adoption to begin transforming the way companies do business. For debt collection, many organizations are still relying on an aging and outdated process to pursue debtors and recover revenue – the collection call center. Dozens or even hundreds of collection reps spend their days on the phone lines, methodically and painstakingly pursuing consumers who have racked up debt in the hopes that some will actually pan out.
Unfortunately, call centers are fraught with challenges that can have a debilitating impact on the collecting organization, the company’s brand and reputation, and the consumers on the other end of the phone, who in many cases truly want to regain control of their financial lives. Among the many problems call centers face:
They’re Reactive and Emotional Environments
When individuals are the driving force behind an emotional transaction like a phone collection call, it’s not hard to have a bad day – especially when reps tend to garner low base salaries and are incented with commissions and bonuses to succeed. If a consumer rudely hangs up on a rep, for example, it’s easy to fall into a retaliatory frame of mind and call back multiple times simply to harass the debtor. Reactive and emotional responses from a rep can lead to bad exposure and higher risk of complaints or even legal action. Even voice analytics systems that monitor language used by reps are not infallible, as reps usually know what trigger words to avoid (such as “garnishment” or “lawsuit”) and how far they can push the envelope and not be flagged.
Even Hiring More Reps Doesn’t Really Scale
Many companies see hiring more reps as a simple solution to get as much coverage as possible. This conventional wisdom looks good on paper, until your realize more reps also means more training, more compensation, more resources and more oversight to monitor every active rep’s calls. Moreover, it is difficult to match staffing needs to varying workflows. If business is brisk and opportunity is high, it makes sense to have more workers. But all companies experience ebbs and flows in business activity, so when it comes time to scale down, they are forced to eliminate call center positions, then scale back up when the demand returns. Such fluxuations create a complex and unsustainable model for smooth debt collection execution.
Ultimately, It’s All About Risk
Large call centers create the potential for more problem interactions with debtors and a greater probability of complaints and lawsuits, and risks and costs can rise exponentially when you consider how long it takes to manage each incident. Interviewing the violating rep in question, piecing together what happened and facing legal action or an angry regulators all create instability and unpredictability.
Consider Automating Debt Collection – and Making It Smarter
How can you overcome these inherent problems with debt collection call centers? Progressive organizations in the credit card, consumer loan, ecommerce, technology and telecom industries are all turning to a more sensible and intelligent approach to replace the call center strategy: Automation engines that replace most collection activities offer a more proactive system that has compliance, risk mitigation, content and costs all built in.
Here’s what it looks like:
Start with an Intelligent, Machine-learning System
Today’s automated collection systems, like those pioneered by TrueAccord, rely on a process that goes far beyond outbound calls. Combining outbound emails, text messages and other channels with an intelligent machine-learning system that sees what type of interaction each recipient prefers, you create a less obtrusive environment that debtors are more likely to respond to. In most cases, consumers are the ones taking the initiative to call collection reps directly to solve the debt issue, reducing the number of calls you need to make by up to 95 percent and lowering the number of agents you need on staff. And because the TrueAccord platform automatically monitors every call and interaction and uses pre-written and pre-approved content, you’re protected.
Control and Monitor Your Content
Code-controlled compliance is critical to ensuring that reps are sticking to script and aren’t sending improper content to a consumer. With TrueAccord, compliance is built right into the system. Messaging for emails and other interactions are pre-defined and pre-approved so you don’t have to micromanage every agent’s conversations. The system also makes it very easy to track and measure the effectiveness of your program and allows multiple approvers to oversee and continually improve the process.
Create a Far Better Consumer Experience
Once you begin dealing with consumers on their terms and personalizing the experience for them, you create a more collaborative and cooperative environment – and improve your chances that they’ll remain a customer. Change the nature of the conversation so that’s it’s less adversarial, and you’ll improve customer retention and lock in better recovery rates. There is also less incentive for a rebel rep to push the boundaries because they’ll be working with consumers, not against them.
As the debt collection industry matures, there is a huge opportunity for companies to take a positive step forward, recovering more revenue in less time and changing the nature of their debt collection business along the way.
To hear our CCO and CEO discussing the Perils of Call Centers, check out our podcast.