By Sheila Monroe
TrueAccord’s Chief Growth Officer, Sheila Monroe, was recently featured in the New Standard in Debt Collection panel as part of the Beyond Digital: The Next Era in Collections summit. Having held numerous executive-level positions at TrueAccord on top of a multi-decade career in collections, Monroe is uniquely qualified to recount the historical practices of the collections industry from her point of view. In this blog post, Sheila shares her perspective on where the collections industry is heading in 2021 and beyond.
Much has changed since I started in the collections industry in 1986 and not just in the types of communication channels used, but also in the collection strategies employed. For example, the first real meaningful change was a move from a one size fits all strategy to a much more sophisticated segmentation of consumers.
That means “customer A” gets a very different experience than “customer B” based on their individual repayment behaviors while in collections. This type of segmentation helped companies decide calling intensity and their letter strategy: Is it a reminder letter? How frequently do we call? When do we call?
Once organizations mastered segmentation, operational efficiency (deploying and optimizing tools aimed at reducing the amount of calling) helped the industry start down a path of reduced staffing requirements and operational effort. Collection dialers have been around for years but with the new effort towards efficiency, agencies realized that customers were willing to make commitments and payments in the interactive voice response (IVR) system. Agencies started using interactive voice messaging (IVM) to automate outbound calling journeys as much as possible. Sophisticated skiptrace waterfalls became automated as companies got smarter about data management to increase contact rates.
The industry is still largely phone based but most collection businesses are now starting to adopt digital channels, like email and SMS. Though digital channels still only make up a small percentage of total outbound activity across the industry, we’ve seen regulators respond to these modern communication platforms with the introduction of Regulation F. As a company that is leaps and bounds ahead of the industry average when it comes to digital communications, we’re excited at TrueAccord about the new legislation. What Reg F says is, “all that disruptive phone calling that is happening, it’s not what consumers want. It’s not a great experience for consumers.” It’s clarified and given a strong nod toward using digital channels. When I think about that shift toward digital, a lot of players in the industry are just doing it for efficiency and some, frankly, out of survival because of Reg F.
The CFPB is doing a good job recognizing that consumers want a change, so they are forcing collection companies to innovate or get out. They understand that consumers want to communicate in more convenient, less disruptive channels and they want to feel safe communicating on their terms. The reality is that most consumers want to pay their debts. If there is respectful personalized communication and a simple way to sign up for a repayment plan, they likely will.
That brings me to where we are today and this continuing shift of behavior. When it comes to innovation and segmentation, changes have been about making things more streamlined for contact centers. All of that innovation has been focused inward to figure out how the company can optimize to get more for less. There’s been little attention paid to the consumer and their preferences. How can engagement with a consumer about a really sensitive topic be done in a way that meets their needs? How can we simplify the process for the consumer? How can we start to remove that stigma from the conversation? In most industries, you design with the consumer in mind and the money will follow.
Now, we’re in the age of the consumer. Today’s consumers crave simplicity, convenience and personalization. We live in a world in which we can listen to whatever music we want to hear, stream the content we want to see, connect with friends from around the world, get a ride, and have food delivered to our doorstep all with a couple of clicks. All those apps which we know and love, pay attention to our preferences to make it even easier the next time we open them to stream or watch or buy.
Effort is a thing of the past. Effort is reserved for things we want to do now: play a sport, take a hike, or go to our kid’s recital. So now, financial services, and yes, the collection process, which touches millions of consumers each year, needs to become simple, convenient, intuitive, personalized and ultimately, low effort.
This content originally appeared as part of the Beyond Digital: The Next Era in Collections summit. Watch the entire summit here.