How to create a consumer-focused experience: An interview with Cassie Cox

By on June 9th, 2020 in Industry Insights, Industry Interviews

Traditional call and collect debt collection agencies may see up to 5,000 accounts managed by each agent on their team. Increasing that number to 80,000 accounts per agent not only requires the support of powerful machine learning technology but an extensive training program. Cassie Cox, TrueAccord’s Director of Operations, discusses how her prior experience in collections and a unique training program has enabled our team to manage multiple communication channels and support a customer-focused experience.

Profile photo of Cassie Cox
Cassie Cox, TrueAccord’s Direct of Operations

How has your experience in debt collection shaped your approach to managing operations today?

I’ve been in collections for 25 years. I started my career on the phones as a debt collector myself, and I worked my way up to a supervisor position and eventually a department manager. I just kept going from there. I’ve had the opportunity to work across the country—North Dakota, Oregon, Virginia, and now Kansas—and in several roles where I was responsible for the agent experience. 

Consumers’ expectations have changed significantly. I remember when having an IVR (interactive voice response system) manage call flows was an annoyance to people. Customer experience scores would plummet because of them. Someone would call in and want to speak with an agent, not a computer. 

Today, no one wants to talk to an agent anymore. If someone has to pick up their phone, hearing an IVR is their best-case scenario. You have to meet your customers’ needs from tomorrow, today, and improving the overall customer experience with your company starts with having the right infrastructure in place. You need to ask the right questions:

  • How are consumers trying to engage with you?
  • What tools do your agents need?
  • How do you develop those tools?
  • What processes do you build?
  • What controls are in place to maintain consistency?

All of this helps to make sure that the customer experience comes to life in the way that you design it and doesn’t go off the rails. You can use these guidelines to train new hires and manage new process deployment in the future, and you can manage this by building a quality knowledge management system.

Speaking of processes: as I understand it, our agent training process is pretty extensive. Can you walk me through what training looks like and why that’s the case?

The key differentiator for our training process is really that our agents are working closely with TrueAccord’s technology. Agents in a traditional call center are regularly managing payments and routine account questions. When 96% of our consumers are managing their accounts through self-service, the consumers that do email or call us truly need help.

Machine learning technology drives TrueAccord’s consumer experience. If you want to learn more about the role of machine learning in debt collection, you can read more here.

This means that our call types are typically more challenging, and we need to rely on more complex problem-solving skills. So our goal with our training is to create a team of elite problem solvers.

Agents also have their own technology to learn and manage. We have our own CRM that helps automate scripts and disclosures that prompt agents so they don’t have to memorize a unique playbook for every client. If, for example, a creditor has a unique out-of-statute disclosure, that information can be built into our system, so we make sure that our team sees it when they need it. 

These processes are fairly standard in the collections space, but they still require training. The biggest reason that our program is a full six weeks is that our agents are managing multi-channel communications. I’ve worked with larger companies where you have one team dedicated to email, one for inbound calls, and another for outbound calls. Our agents are managing all of our channels at once.

“I’ve worked with larger companies where you have one team dedicated to email, one for inbound calls, and another for outbound calls. Our agents are managing all of our channels at once.”

A new hiring class will spend two weeks in a classroom setting designed to teach Collections 101. This ten-day period is meant to go over subjects like the differences between first party and third party collections, defining pre-charge off versus post charge off debt, and who our clients are. Reviewing collections laws and regulations is also a foundational part of the education process, and then we finish off by walking through our communication channels and TrueAccord’s systems.

The next week, these agents begin to manage inbound email communications. Once they feel comfortable with email, we have another week of phone training before they spend the fifth week managing calls. Then, in the last week of their on-the-job training, they are working both email and phone communications.

I’ve seen other companies with training programs that last anywhere from two to four weeks, and it’s great to have people ramped up quickly, but you also have to balance that with high attrition rates and error rates. 

Our training team is also incorporating a comprehensive suicide-prevention training into our agent onboarding process as well as for our current staff. A surge in unemployment and growing anxieties about financial stability and personal health due to the pandemic have contributed to an increase in consumers that are in need of more than simple financial assistance. Our agents experienced this surge first hand, and we want to equip them to successfully navigate these difficult conversations. This includes being able to deescalate potential life-threatening situations and referring to resources like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255).

Even here at TrueAccord, the process has improved over time, and we continue to improve our training methods because we want to set people up for success. 

Some improvements and changes have been expedited recently. You recently hosted a webinar with Tim Collins [TrueAccord’s Chief Compliance Officer and General Counsel] about shifting agents to a work-from-home environment that has generally gone very well. The COVID-19 pandemic has made a huge impact on work standards and practices, but are there other challenges we’re working to address at the moment?

If we’re talking about larger-scale challenges, it’s important for us to continue improving our training and helping our agents navigate conversations and negotiations with consumers, but that need has also been amplified by COVID-19. The pandemic sent the nation and the world into crisis mode, and for us, that meant that when a consumer reached out and said they had been impacted and they couldn’t pay, we would tell them “It’s okay, we understand.” 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to adapt to new work-from-home needs check out the full webinar with Cassie and Tim here!

TrueAccord has also worked directly with many of our clients to implement a hardship program to offer further assistance to consumers directly impacted by COVID-19. 

Unfortunately, whether they’ve been impacted or not, their debt still exists. Now we’re working on guiding them through the process and focusing on “It’s okay. We understand. Let’s work with you to get through this.” It’s easy to hear someone’s concerns and say “you don’t have to pay right now,” but we can do more than that for them by discussing their options.

Thank you Cassie for sharing some insight into our training process and for your continued dedication to creating a positive consumer experience with our team. Building a system that supports and educates consumers leads to long-term financial success, and our agents are a core part of that.

Are you looking for a new type of collections solution? Talk to our team today to see how our machine learning engine and our expert agents can improve your recovery rates.

5 ways to encourage timely customer payments

By on February 21st, 2020 in Industry Insights

Expanding a small business requires a consistent and a steady, growing cash flow. Especially in the early stages of growth, a single, large payment or several smaller payments being delayed could mean the difference between keeping your doors open and closing up shop. 

Your consumers may delay or cancel their payment for any number of reasons: a more urgent financial need arose, they had a disagreement with you about your product or service, they simply forgot to pay, or they adamantly refused to pay for no reason at all. Navigating these situations with your customers can be a challenge and can take time and valuable resources. You have to consider:

  1. How much effort you’re willing or able to put into pursuing payment
  2. How much time you will spend on individual accounts
  3. Whether or not you’re willing to damage a customer relationship (or even lose them as a customer) to secure payment

Unfortunately, there is no right answer to these questions, and your business’ response will vary from case to case. 

Not everyone will pay what they owe

As delayed payments begin to pile up, many small businesses will begin to try to collect on these payments themselves, and the outside options are often limited due to traditional agencies having account volume or account value minimums. Traditional agencies are also seen as greedy, uncompromising, and even sometimes threatening according to a study published in the Journal of Business Ethics. You may only see 50% of whatever they are able to collect, and then also lose out on your customer relationships.

Some customers won’t pay. Period. Newer digital debt collection strategies can help to collect on these accounts and even build up your business’ reputation with consumers, but before you commit to using a 3rd-party collection service, there are some steps you can take to get closer to 100% payment rates! 

1. Have a clear plan for offering credit 

Negotiate payment terms in advance, write them down, and limit how much risk you take on each transaction. It can also help to adopt pre-paid models whenever possible and require a payment instrument before you let customers use your product. 

Your risk team should also be wary of newer customers without an established credit history. If you see a customer start using your product or service and they run up a significant balance in their first few days or weeks, monitor their account carefully. If you run an eCommerce business or a marketplace, frequent and aggressive purchasing sprees from new customers are a major red flag and should be examined before they become larger issues.

2. Charge and invoice promptly

By issuing your invoice or charging a payment instrument immediately following the completion of a job, you can secure payment without leaving room for evading payment.

Beyond that, you can build a (preferably automated) process for following up on chargebacks, outstanding balances, or invoices early and often. There is a careful balance between “often” and “too much” though, so be careful as you set up your contact cadence. Even if you don’t get paid on time, keeping yourself at the top of customers’ minds increases awareness and prepares them to negotiate payment terms when they’re able.

3. Make payment frictionless

Keep a payment instrument on file for your customers and verify it with a $0 authorization. You can also expand your available options and make it easy to set up multiple forms of payment; the more backup payment options you have on hand, the better your chances of completing payment. 

4. Talk to your customers like people

A few stray consumers may actively or angrily refuse to make a payment, but most of your customers want to stay out of debt. If you approach every delayed payment in this way, you can approach payment (and collections) with human in mind, and you can end up retaining a valuable, long term customer.

Customers that you work with may be able to provide invaluable feedback to your team’s processes. Make sure to follow up and talk to them!

Your small business’ goal with receivable management isn’t only to prevent late paying customers, it’s also to retain positive relationships with the most valuable ones. Don’t let a temporary situation ruin a beneficial long term relationship.

5. Prepare an escalation structure

Investing in preventing late paying customers can pay dividends to your bottom line, but retaining some expert help in the event you can’t collect on a delinquent account can be an effective strategy as well. Your risk team may be experts themselves, but accounts recovery is a complex industry to navigate, and if you don’t plan on building a full, first-party collections team in-house, you can form connections with other agencies. 

Having a small business collections partner as a last resort also increases your chances of recovery by informing customers that a delayed payment will likely move to collections. Consumers often recognize that having an account in collections can damage their credit scores and will do their best to pay if they are able.  

It’s not easy to prevent customers from missing the occasional payment, but by following a thorough process you can resolve delayed payments before they can damage your business. 

If delays begin to grow out of hand, you can always reach out to a digital debt collection agency like TrueAccord! Let our team know if you have questions.

Why customer feedback is so important for your small business

By on January 30th, 2020 in User Experience

Everyone knows that customers are the backbone of a business; if people don’t use your service or buy your product then you won’t have a business for very long. In order to solve this problem, companies often work to bring in as many new customers as possible, but you can’t forget to nurture relationships with consumers that you’ve worked with in the past. 

According to Adobe, 40% of eCommerce revenue comes from returning customers which make up only 8% of total visitors! That number alone should inspire you to get out and talk to your old customers and figure out what they think, but there are quite a few more reasons you should cherish customer feedback and use it to strengthen your company!

Building brand promoters

The omnipresence of social media means that consumers that are excited about your company will shout from the digital rooftops to endorse you. Unfortunately, the power of social sharing also means that the opposite is true: if a person has a particularly negative experience with your brand, they will spread the word around fairly quickly. 

Properly managing customer feedback can dramatically improve your brand’s reliability. A Net Promoter Score measures customer’s satisfaction with a business by asking: “how likely are you to recommend this (product/service) to a friend?” Customers that rate your business at a 9 or a 10 are considered promoters and are your best friend when it comes to spreading the word about your brand. 

Maintaining a high NPS score is challenging, but by focusing some efforts on gathering and listening to customer feedback, you can gradually build effective, organic branding that sets you apart from your competition!

If maintaining customer relationships is so important, you may be hesitant to try and collect on debts for fear of negative feedback. But digital debt collection solutions can support your brand and your bottom line!

Incorporating feedback and iterating

Not every review will revolutionize your business. If you take every negative review to heart, you might start to feel a bit down on yourself, but by analyzing customer feedback in aggregate, you’ll start to see patterns emerge!

These patterns won’t appear overnight, and even some patterns may not give you the direction you’re looking for (it is still your business after all). That said, if you have dozens of customers asking for a new feature or piece of content, imagine how many more customers want the same thing that aren’t asking!

By listening to customer feedback and building new tools that your customers are looking for, you can demonstrate that you listen to them and further improve retention. Plus, incorporating these changes into your customer lifecycle can pay big dividends! 

Promoters will continue to support your brand, bring in new customers, and in the long run, they will continue to spend more as your brand relationship improves. A survey by Bain & Company shows that customers actually spend more in months 31-36 of their relationship with a brand than they do in the first six months.

Creating a self-sustaining system

Feedback helps your business to grow and meet the ever-expanding needs of your market. If you don’t listen to your customers and build in a vacuum, you may soon realize that you were not solving the root of a problem. This isn’t to say that every customer suggestion or idea is the right one for your business, but if you take the time to listen to your customers you’ll build their trust and might just find the next right step. 

4 tips for improving your collections strategy this tax season

By on January 23rd, 2020 in Industry Insights

The 2020 tax season is getting started early this year! The IRS will begin accepting returns for the 2019 tax year as soon as January 27th, but what does this mean for your business? According to the National Retail Federation, in 2018 and 2019, 34% of consumers intended to use their tax refund to pay off debts. With over $142 billion distributed through refunds last year, that leaves us with somewhere around $48 billion dollars directed toward debt payments across the country.

With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that tax season is to debt repayment rates what the winter holiday season is to massive retail sales. Let’s take a look at how you can make good on collecting while it’s on your customers’ minds this season!

Provide flexible payment options

US consumers have racked up over $4 trillion in debt, and that total has been steadily increasing for years. For many consumers, paying off a debt in full or even in the amounts offered can seem insurmountable. This is especially true of consumers that have multiple debts to pay off. 

With a surplus of tax return money burning a hole in their pockets, they have an opportunity to begin to relieve some of their debt pressure. By providing consumers with more flexible payment options, they feel comfortable knowing that they are taking steps toward financial well-being without having to commit their entire refund to a single payment.

In fact, we’ve seen that 60% of consumers that start on a payment plan will pay in full, settle in full, or remain active on that plan once they’ve started it! Getting your foot in the door can make all the difference.

Make yourself accessible

Being able to offer new payment options to consumers is one thing, but getting a hold of them to discuss those options is an entirely different challenge. Traditional collections agencies continue to work on a call and collect system, and they are reaching fewer and fewer consumers. As the number of consumers interested in answering their phones continues to decline, businesses have to consider new contact channels.

Effectively contacting consumers in debt starts with meeting them where they are: online. Your consumers are filing their W-2s, adding up their assets, and managing their incoming returns through tax software and banking apps. By reaching consumers by email, SMS, or even push notifications, you can introduce your payment plan options where they can see it without the pressure of a call from an agent.

Personalize (and humanize) your communication

Great payment options that consumers can afford? Check.

Reaching consumers when and where they are? Check.

Now how do you work to get consumers to follow through if you don’t have an agent on the phone? When a company is selling a product or service, there is a clear distinction between sales and branding. As you ramp up your tax time collection strategy, consider the impact of building trust in your brand rather than pressing consumers to pay right then and there. 

Even the most compelling payment options on the market and the most stellar team of collectors in the industry can’t solve for the fact that your customers may have other debts that they are making a priority. But if they recognize your brand as the one they can communicate with, as the team that understands their struggle, as the team that’s willing to work with them, they’re more likely to pay. Not only that, they’re more likely to work with you again in the future!

Partner with the right team

Many businesses, especially smaller businesses, take responsibility for collecting outstanding balances on their own, but collections is a complex industry from both a tactical and legal perspective. Compliance can be a massive, tangled hurdle for even the most diligent teams to clear. By finding the right debt collection agency to partner with, you can save you and your team the time and resources that would be invested in recovering lost revenue (and navigating the 538 new pages of the CFPB’s collections rules) and focus on what you do best.

Tax season is on its way, and customers want to clean up their debts as much as you want to recover on their delinquent accounts. Providing a compassionate and accessible collections strategy can offer great results for both your company and the consumers you serve, and if you need some back up, make sure you find the right agency for you.

Still looking for a new collection strategy for tax season 2020? You can reach out to our team to get started today!

How to Build Your Business’ Reputation Using Digital Collections

By on November 6th, 2019 in Industry Insights
five people putting their hands in for a deal

The age of the internet has brought about an age of transparency and exposure. News can travel around the globe in seconds thanks to the power of social media, and this visibility means that a company’s business practices, day to day operations, and mission are just as clear and present in the market as their products and services. Brand matters, and nothing helps to build or break a brand’s reputation faster than social proof

Today, companies don’t win just because they have the best products and services, they win when they provide the best customer experience and allow their customers to share that with the world. Companies that do this well are experience disruptors. Creditors looking for collections solutions can struggle to provide a positive collections experience (no customer wants to be in debt after all), but we know that it’s possible to build your brand and still collect on debts at the same time.

Stay ahead of compliance

This should go without saying, but collections teams that stay up-to-date and even ahead of federal and state compliance meet with fewer customer complaints and lawsuits. In an industry where not using (or even over-using) the right language can lead to a lawsuit, ensuring compliance must be the first step in providing a consistent, secure, and positive brand experience. 

Creditors and customers alike benefit from collections systems that keep compliance at the forefront. New regulations like the CFPB’s proposed rules can add new layers of complexity to the collections process. Thankfully, digital collections strategies can aid in coding compliance directly into outreach and minimizing human error!

Be transparent

Speaking of using the right language at the right time, using clearcut language that helps consumers understand their debt is essential to building a brand that is seen as reliable and trustworthy.

Building your brand with a modern, digital collections strategy is essential because today it isn’t just about reaching consumers and requesting payment.

While compliant language is a large part of transparency, making it easy for customers to understand the exact steps they have to take to get out of debt and how they can work with a team to pay off that debt helps smooth the process. When steps to get back on track are clearly outlined and presented in a way that is digestible to the least sophisticated consumer, the debt payment experience is better for everyone.

Adapt to changing customer expectations

Customers expect their financial services to be exactly that—services; they want their tools to work for them. If someone can do all of their day-to-day banking through an app, they shouldn’t have to wade through stacks of paper mail and phone calls in order to resolve a debt.

Traditional collections models have made some technological advancements, but are still largely bound to call-based collections practices. Financial technology experience disruptors like Rocket Mortgage have simplified and digitized their services to meet consumer expectations. NerdWallet says that their “document and asset retrieval capabilities alone can save you a bunch of time and hassle.”

Make a change

Digital debt collection agencies are dedicated to saving consumers time and hassle by reaching them via email and push notifications instead of calling in the middle of dinner. Customers can respond to outreach and utilize payment systems at their own pace. 

Building your brand with a modern, digital collections strategy is essential because today it isn’t just about reaching consumers and requesting payment. Companies build reputation by providing a proper experience. How they collect is why they win. 

TrueAccord is redefining the collections experience for creditors and customers alike. Click here if you’re interested in learning more!