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.

TrueAccord Q&A with Ohad Samet

By on May 15th, 2020 in Product and Technology

The age of digital communication has led to a dramatic shift in the way companies do business and in the way that people communicate generally. The collections industry is not exempt from this change. On April 22, TrueAccord’s CEO, Ohad Samet, spoke on how TrueAccord is pioneering a radical transformation for consumers and collectors alike, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a summary of the webinar. 

Stop by our YouTube channel if you’d rather watch or listen to an abridged version!

COVID-19 & challenges to the call center model

Attempting to reach consumers in debt is becoming increasingly challenging. Reaching these same consumers during a rapidly evolving recession, when tens of millions of people in the US are filing for unemployment, is only making it more difficult. Beyond this, social distancing practices are limiting the ability of traditional call-and-collect based agencies. 

There has been some progress made on improving work-from-home opportunities in collections, but 78% of TrueAccord’s clients are experiencing severe disruption of their 1st- and 3rd-party call center operations. This includes some collections partners shutting down entirely.

High agent turnover rates are a common issue for collections agencies due to the difficult nature of the work. Agencies typically expect turnover rates of more than 70%, and these numbers are climbing in the midst of the pandemic. All of these factors have largely left the collections industry in a holding pattern as we wait and see what changes may come, but what else can we do today to make change?

Finding the solution today

TrueAccord is focused on building sustainable, consumer experience-focused collections systems and tools. Our machine learning algorithm, Heartbeat, is a patented, scalable, tool that personalizes the collections experience with empathy-driven content for consumers. The multi-armed bandit algorithm learns from customer interaction and optimizes based on these behaviors. 

Multi-armed bandit algorithms go beyond traditional decision trees or A/B testing. They optimize and learn as they grow! 

What’s the difference between machine learning optimization and demographic segmentation?

Demographic segmentation is dividing a group of individuals based on demographic information such as age, gender, race, marital status, etc. when deploying a process or function. Machine learning optimization is teaching a computer model to evaluate the choices individuals make to improve a process or function. For example, in the credit and collections space, debt collectors typically approach customers during tax season to discuss using any tax refund to pay existing debts.

Our Heartbeat system learned that consumers do not like these suggestions—consumers who received content without the phrase “tax refund” paid their debt during tax season (likely with their tax refund) more than those consumers who received content with the words “tax refund.”

Samet explained, millions of consumers have completed payments and established payment plans using TrueAccord’s platform (through Heartbeat). The options employed by Heartbeat are based on its historical data learned through continued experimentation without access to an individual’s demographic information. Based on the millions of users that came before them, we can depend on Heartbeat to function as a complete virtual agent with built-in years of experience.  

Customizable communication offers a personalized experience

While email is TrueAccord’s primary communication channel, Heartbeat is a multi-channel solution that includes but is not limited to, SMS (with consent), push notifications (with an opt-in), and a self-serve interactive platform. Other digital services segment channels to test with different audiences, or may specialize in one, requiring creditors to work with separate vendors. TrueAccord uses a multi-channel approach to reach consumers how they prefer.

In fact, more than 95% of users on our platform resolve their accounts without ever communicating directly with an agent. 80% of the consumers that do reach out to our team are able to resolve their accounts via email. Our dedicated team of agents is available to speak on the phone, but our digital tools allow each agent to service more than 80,000 accounts (and that number continues to grow). Some agencies are gradually scaling digital strategies, they still account for less than 30% of their overall operations.

In fact, more than 95% of users on our platform resolve their accounts without ever communicating directly with an agent.

While Heartbeat operates as the frontline of our digital strategy, TrueAccord’s phone number is always readily available. We firmly believe in using only one phone number, (866) 611-2731. This creates brand familiarity, drives engagement, and is consumer friendly. 97% of consumers ignore calls from unknown numbers because many companies buy phone numbers in all area codes. Their goal is to appear as if they are calling from the same area code as the consumer.

TrueAccord does not want to trick the consumer into answering an unknown call.  We want to make it easy for consumers to search for our number online, do their own research about TrueAccord, and respond on their time. When consumers do reach out to our team, TrueAccord agents are trained to focus on customer care and on helping consumers to build the right financial plan to meet their needs. 

Combining this approach to customer care with our machine learning algorithms allow us to expand our offerings to include new tools like a detailed self-service portal for payment plan adjustments. Consumers can customize payment plans that work for them, and this has led to a spike in plan creation and higher successful plan completion rates. 

This includes payments related to sudden surges in income like stimulus checks. Here’s what our data shows us.

TrueAccord doesn’t want to pressure consumers to make payment amounts they cannot afford and make deadlines they can’t meet. Instead, we enable the consumer to fully personalize the repayment experience into a plan that meets the consumer’s ability and time frame. “We sell the experience of being debt free.” Samet says.

A different approach to collections

Traditional call-and-collect agencies are built on foundations similar to telemarketing: high agent turnover rates result from low-base, high-commission pay rates. These collectors are incentivized to collect and meet call minimums and payment quotas that lead to a rapid rise in complaints toward the end of pay periods as deadlines loom. 

Machine learning algorithms don’t have the same stresses. The bounds of payment plans are defined by clients in advance. Heartbeat leans on historical customer data, consumer engagement behavior, and chooses content to inform consumers about the stress free experience of repaying debt using customizable on-line repayment tools. If the customer has any questions, they can always check in with our team by phone or email!

Changing the industry

TrueAccord’s changes are continuing beyond our technology. Our leadership team works directly with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to understand evolving best practices and remain at the forefront of regulatory change. Members of our legal team also work with the Receivables Management Association (RMAi), the Consumer Relation Consortium, and Association of Credit and Collection Professionals ACA International boards to keep up with trends in collections. 

We submitted our own comments to the CFPB’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. You can read the full letter here!

These experiences all point in a similar direction: legislators want to see fewer phone calls, more reliance on technology, and more consumer choice in the collections space. Building compliance adherence into TrueAccord’s system drives brings these changes together in one place.

How does TrueAccord fit into existing collections strategies?

TrueAccord is able to service at any stage in the debt cycle (early, late, warehoused, etc.), across segments, with competitive results. Our platform is built to accommodate your team’s needs, and we recognize that not every collections agency works perfectly in every segment. 

We can easily increase or decrease the use of specific channels and optimize in whichever segments you see fit. While larger placement volumes provide more data and by extension clearer automated decision making, we fit into your strategy at any stage. 

Pre-charge off

The same tech that supports TrueAccord’s post-charge-off product also offers new advantages and easy onboarding within a few short weeks for early stage delinquencies. Heartbeat can  supplement your existing call center strategy. We’re also equipped to provide different levels of service in different phases. 

This can be a small change to your normal business practices: uploading a traditional “dialer file” to our system. We can email payment reminder content driving your customers to your existing teams, tools, and webpages, while maintaining your branding. This can also involve full outsourcing  through the use of our online self-service individualized payment portal as well as use of digital channels to drive engagement. 

The next steps

We continue to scale and develop new tools for consumers to self-identify their current financial needs and provide new ways to work with them to adjust payment plans. We know that demanding payments isn’t nearly as effective as empowering consumers, and finding the right middle ground helps all parties involved. 

Getting started with TrueAccord is easy with inbound file receipt or APIs and standardized, out-of-the-box reporting. It can be as simple as a .CSV upload to our secure dashboard or as complex as a long-term integration period designed to align our systems, policies, and procedures to your own.

Ready to join the future of debt collection? Do you still have questions about how TrueAccord can help your team? Get in touch with us today!

4 ways collections can help consumers in a recession

By on April 1st, 2020 in Industry Insights

Consumer debt in the United States continues to climb into the tens of trillions of dollars, and as unemployment numbers continue to rise consumers are expected to continue to pay for essential services such as rent and utilities, companies are likely to see an exponential rise in delinquencies. All of these things together can cause financial spirals, especially for those already struggling to pay their bills.

In the midst of troubling economic downturn, it is the debt collection industry’s responsibility to remain a financial service and not create more damaging burdens. Here are four things you and your company can do to continue collecting and maintain customer relationships and loyalty even through challenging economic hardships.

Acknowledge the challenge

Communication is key. Your consumers have to know that they are seen and heard. Your mission has to help consumers navigate the challenges they’re facing.

Visitors to TrueAccord’s consumer website immediately see a banner drawing direct attention to the economic crisis. The banner links to a page with resources for those impacted (and available to those who are not impacted by COVID19) helping to answer the most frequently asked questions related to those with upcoming payments and in settlement plans. 

Provide non-collection related communications

Send communications that do not imply the existence of a debt. Do not mention any account, the balance due, or a demand for payment. Instead, provide other resources that can help anyone during this pandemic, like work from home opportunities, childcare assistance programs, and local resources for those in financial distress, including area food pantries and safe shelters. By providing tools that can aid consumers in need of help, you can be a guiding force for overcoming their financial burdens. 

Individuals in debt often need these resources year-round, not just in the middle of a crisis. These can include tools such as budgeting resources, debt payment calendars, or links to job boards for companies still hiring.

You may also consider sharing less direct financial resources such as educational tools that may be especially helpful to individuals seeking to improve their situation and parents hoping to address their family’s needs.

Extend payment plan lengths

One step that creditors can take that is simple but impactful and can help to alleviate financial concerns is to extend the length of consumers’ payment plans. Agreeing to longer payment plans gives consumers more time to pay, creating lower monthly payment rates, and leaving more dollars they can allocate to more immediate needs. 

Machine-learning and artificial intelligence can help to guide meaningful payment plan offerings. Read more about how new technologies are shaping digital debt collection.

Another step allows consumers to defer a payment. For many consumers in settlement arrangements, deferral may provide the assistance they need while not resulting in the loss of the settlement offer. In fact, North Carolina recognized this and passed this emergency law to make sure all consumers in the state have this option for the next 30 days.

Give consumers the power to manage their debts themselves

Implementing digital collections tools into your business can empower and educate consumers. Online portals and payment systems offer thousands of consumers the ease of access that they require of other financial institutions. 

Ideally, digital tools should extend beyond just payment options and should include opportunities for consumers to:

  • Make adjustments to the length and amount of their payment plans
  • Skip or defer a payment without losing a settlement
  • Dispute all or a portion of their debt
  • Apply for hardship pauses
  • Enter bankruptcy information

All without needing to speak to an agent.

The best debt collection practices should prioritize consumers’ needs and enable them to control their finances. It’s critically important to provide consumers with flexibility and the ability to customize when and how they pay.

Many in debt have tight budgets, live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes are forced to choose between basic needs and paying bills. Leading the collections industry with compassion and empathy for those in need can make a lasting impact on consumers and creditors alike. 

Want to learn more about what we’re doing at TrueAccord and how we can help your consumers? Get in touch with us!

3 essential tips for managing chargebacks in eCommerce

By on March 12th, 2020 in Industry Insights

As more consumers shift away from physical stores and toward subscription services, online storefronts, and digital banking we have seen a growing number of chargebacks in the eCommerce space. In order to accommodate this, some companies even add costs associated with chargebacks to the price of their products (it’s estimated that for $100 in chargebacks, you are actually losing out of $240).

Other companies, unable to recoup losses themselves, send chargebacks to collection agencies, and they may be waiting for too long. Here are three things your eCommerce business can do to better understand chargebacks and mitigate your losses.

Analyze why the chargeback was filed

Not all chargebacks are fraudulent. Consumers may file a chargeback due to a billing error or an unauthorized purchase was made on their card. Doing an in-depth analysis of accounts prevents potentially damaging your own reputation with a consumer by sending them to collections without first seeking resolution. This also provides you with an opportunity to then reach out to your customers and understand the reasons they renege on their payment so that you can possibly prepare for similar situations in the future.

This also enables you to create a larger chargeback strategy. Being too lenient or allowing chargebacks to go unmanaged will leave you at a loss, being too strict may alienate otherwise loyal consumers, and investing time and money into smaller or more resistant accounts may lead to worse losses.

Developing a routine for who to reach out to and how to reach them based on historical behavioral data can help you to best recoup your losses before needing to send accounts to collections.

Start a conversation with your consumers

These communications can open more details than internal analysis. A consumer may have provided incorrect measurements for a garment or accidentally order 200 of something when they meant to order 20 and prompted a service dispute. You can work to maintain a relationship with the consumer and protect your brand. Chargebacks aren’t always driven by malicious intent, and you might be able to resolve the issue together.

Connecting with your consumer and resolving the situation is a best-case scenario post-chargeback. If you reach them and they continue to dispute the charge, cite your reasons and offer them an opportunity for response.

When you are supported by analytics, you have valid grounds to inform them that the chargeback will be sent to collections; ensure that you have documented your communications with them and send the account to your debt collection partner.

Find a debt collection agency before you think you’ll need one

The collections industry is often seen as a last resort for eCommerce teams, but waiting until your financial situation feels dire means that the collectors you hired are pressured to perform (and behave) aggressively and quickly. 

These collection strategies are often the foundation for the negative stigma surrounding the account recovery industry, and working with a debt collection partner that supports your brand and can collect chargebacks at a controlled, even rate provides you more flexibility. A more gradual effort can help you maximize your returns and protect your business.

Digital-first collection strategies can not only support but can help build your brand reputation! Read more about how they can help.

Partnering with the right collector can also, counterintuitively, help to prevent accounts from being sent to collections. The negative stigma of the collections industry extends to the minds of consumers, and many consumers fear the prospect of their accounts ending up in collections.

Whether this is due to the potential damage to their credit scores or their perception of traditional call-and-collect debt collection agencies, simply having a collections partner can help to reinforce your valid claim to payments before your recovery specialists ever see the account.

Chargebacks can be damaging to a business and catastrophic to small businesses. By effectively tracking them, understanding how to talk to your customers about their chargebacks, and recognizing when to escalate the issue to a partner company, you’ll be prepared to protect your eCommerce business. 

Ready to find the right partner for your team? Connect with us and learn what we can do to help!