3 essential digital channels for collections

By on February 13th, 2020 in Industry Insights

The debt collection industry is in the midst of rapid change. With the decline of the effectiveness of phone calls and upcoming legislation from the CFPB that includes limiting call volume, it’s more important than ever that your company’s collections strategy diversifies and introduces a digital, multi-channel approach to communicating with consumers.

Determining what digital channels work the best for your collection strategy isn’t an overnight decision, and using them effectively is another hurdle entirely. When reviewing potential communication channels, you have to consider how you want to use them, how you plan to scale them, and what the investment will be for doing those things properly.

Email

According to the State of Collection 2019, email is the most commonly used digital channel used to communicate with consumers in debt (beating SMS text messaging by 45%). Its frequency of use, however, does not mean that it is necessarily being used effectively. Sending manual emails haphazardly can lead to mixed results at best.

Trying to send emails at the scale required of a dedicated agency, however, is even more difficult, and poor email management can lead to low deliverability rates, poor domain authority (you may end up relegated to spam folders), and can even end up getting your company’s sending domains blacklisted from reaching any of your consumers. Figure 1, below, shows Debt Collector A’s email sending volume.

Figure 1

Sending hundreds of thousands of emails per month can seem like an effective strategy at face value, but when deliverability is taken into consideration, that appearance changes.

Figure 2, below, mirrors the bar graph in Figure 1 and represents the percentage of the emails sent from Debt Collector A that are delivered to an inbox vs. those that are filtered into a spam folder.

Figure 2

A 2019 email client market share study by Litmus shows just how valuable it can be to understand how to work with individual email service providers that all come with their own unique challenges and filters to protect their users. Gmail, for example, maintains 28% of email users, but only 1% of Debt Collector A’s emails are reaching Gmail users.

Cost

Emails can be an effective strategy, but doing so effectively at scale requires extensive infrastructure. That infrastructure includes five major things, including bringing on email experts to work with email service providers, detailed performance tracking, and creating valuable content for your consumers to engage with. Simple email may not cost much, but building a powerful email-driven strategy from the ground up won’t be cheap or easy.

Emails can serve as the foundation of an omni-channel digital strategy, but creating an ecosystem for consumers to engage at their convenience requires more than one tool.

SMS text messaging

Smartphones abound, and when Americans are sending roughly 26 billion text messages every day, it’s easy to see the potential in the texting as a collections communication channel. Millennials spend 3X more time texting than calling or emailing, and they hold an average of $4,712 in consumer debt (not to mention mounting student debt) which makes them prime targets for daunting debt collectors hounding them about a balance. This can be intimidating and turn consumers further away from wanting to work with you.

SMS allows for fast, direct contact with consumers that are on the move, don’t have time for a phone call, and may have breezed past an email or two. By creating a flexible system with multiple touch-points across different channels, you can create an organic system of contacting consumers rather that gives them the power to contact your team when and where they want.

Key uses for SMS:

  1. Payment notifications
    1. Following up with customers to confirm a payment can help to reassure them that their next step toward financial freedom is done and increases transparency between your business and consumers. 
  2. Payment reminders
    1. Even consumers on a payment plan might forget once in a while. A ping with a text message can be just enough of a nudge to remind them to log in and make their scheduled payment.
  3. Providing instant access to their account
    1. By providing a one-click option for a consumer to make their payment, you can make taking the next step easy! Pairing this option with a simple online payment portal gives consumers the opportunity for a full self-service experience.
  4. Tracking your performance
    1. As is the case with other digital channels, tracking your data and performance is easier than ever with texting. You can A/B test messaging and get consistent results for improving engagement.

When you’re considering what to include directly as part of the content of a text message, keep in mind that people expect texts to be short! Length aside, make sure to avoid:

  1. Sensitive information (e.g., account balances, credit card information, etc).
  2. Misleading information
  3. Threatening consumers
  4. Harassing consumers

Text messages have a 209% higher response rate than phone, email, or Facebook, and part of the reason for that is that they are digestible and often feel informal and friendly. On the flip side, misleading, threatening, and harassing texts not only deter engagement and damage your brand, they are also illegal.

Plus, the CFPB’s proposed rules will give consumers the ability to opt out of text messaging, and your texting numbers can still be blocked manually. Be selective with the messages you send and consider the consumer experience.

Getting started with texting using certain software companies can be as cheap as pennies per message. Full-scale agencies like TrueAccord also make use of SMS tools as part of a broader collections strategy alongside other digital tools.

Direct drop voicemail

Direct drop voicemails (also known as ringless voicemail drops) are a unique channel that can help supplement a digital communication strategy but can’t do much on their own. Rather than an agent calling a consumer directly, a voicemail is delivered to the recipient’s inbox without their phone ringing (hence the name).

The consumer still receives a message from a pre-recorded voice that can relay much of the same information that they would have gotten from an agent, but they do not feel the urgent response pressure associated with a phone call. Much like text messages, direct drop voicemails can be used sparingly as a touch point to remind consumers of upcoming payments or ask them to check an email or call an agent back.

From a cost perspective, direct voicemail offerings can range from a few cents to a few tenths of a cent depending on the provider, and many companies will charge based on successful drops rather than a flat charge for the volume sent which can avoid costs incurred for out of date or incorrect phone numbers.

Both direct drop voicemails and text messages are legally classified as phone calls by the TCPA as the law applies to “placing a call or text to a consumer using the consumer’s mobile number.” Be careful with when and how you decide to use either channel in your collections strategy!

As consumer preferences and collections law continue to evolve, we should expect to see rapid growth in both existing digital channels as well as the emergence of others! Effectively integrating these tools into your strategy together can create a much larger impact than any one channel in isolation, and teams that build these systems today will be the future leaders of the industry very soon.

5 tips for building scalable email infrastructure

By on February 6th, 2020 in Product and Technology

Using email as a channel for consumer communication seems like a simple way to dive into the digital revolution, but internet service providers (ISPs) actively develop tools to combat spam and abuse.

You may have the best intentions, but these service providers want to help consumers feel like they are protected which means blacklisting and filtering out junk mail. Unfortunately, emails sent by the untrained email sender can veer dangerously close to junk. 

This can make breaking into emailing consumers difficult, but it makes sending emails by the thousands (and millions) impossible without building email infrastructure that is sustainable and scalable. Establishing that infrastructure begins with recognizing the challenges you might face and then considering how to best confront them.

Why scaling email infrastructure is difficult

Email communication is heavily regulated by automated filters and systems in a way that more manual forms of communication aren’t. Cell service providers, for example, do not have nearly as much control over the volume or quality of calls that their customers receive. 

ISPs have dedicated engineers that design algorithms to keep their users happy, engaged, and protected from malicious senders, and an inbox packed with spam mail makes for a poor user experience. These algorithms are not perfect, and when they are designed, they lean on the side of being more restrictive than less which can lead to some misunderstanding. They may accidentally filter out an email from a legitimate sender that, according to their understanding of what is deemed safe, seems suspicious.

To make matters more complicated, each ISP has unique criteria that serve as the basis of their filtering rules. An email that is flagged as spam by Google could land safely in a Yahoo Mail inbox and vice versa. These rules are also constantly changing and updating to fight back against more advanced scammers making it impossible to create a one-and-done solution to properly sending emails at a massive scale.

Here are just a few things that spam filters analyze that you’ll need to consider:

  • Content: What do your emails say? Do you have any suspicious attachments or links?
  • Design: How do your emails look?
  • Sending time: Did your email arrive at 4pm or 4am?
  • Sending volume: How many of these emails did you send out at once?
  • Sending frequency: How often are you trying to email people?
  • Consumer engagement: Is anyone actually opening/clicking your emails?

Working to get all of these answers (and more) right is essential or you might find your email domain permanently blacklisted from one or all of the ISPs that you’re sending to. So what can you do to build a scalable infrastructure and work within these restraints?

How to successfully send email at scale

As we mentioned above, there isn’t necessarily a single, perfect solution for overcoming the innumerable hurdles to large-scale emailing. It takes dedicated and focused strategy to improve your long term inbox placement rates. Here are a few tips that our team keeps in mind as we continue to grow.

Create valuable content

The first step to making sure your emails are well-received by both users and ISP filters alike is creating the right content. Well-designed UX and carefully curated text are important, but it’s equally important that you steer clear of some phrases and keywords and trigger red flags.

Here’s a list of some spam trigger words that you might want to avoid!

Having a dedicated content team gives you the flexibility to create more personalized and more human messages that have a better chance at reaching your intended audience!

Talk to experts

We know we’ve been thorough, but fully understanding the challenges of sending email at scale isn’t something we can teach you in a few hundred words. TrueAccord has a full team of email deliverability experts on staff that can provide industry specific knowledge and know the ins-and-outs of different ISPs’ requirements. 

They also regularly audit our deliverability rates so that we can iterate on our processes and improve and help segment our domains and IP addresses as we grow.

Segment domains and IP addresses

Thankfully, our email experts can help explain what that last bit means. Segmenting your domains simply means building different domains that you can email consumers from. For example, some of your emails may come from emails@companyA.com and others may come from emails@help.companyA.com. The same goes for segmenting IP addresses; you may send some of your emails from your main office and others from your satellite office.

This process can help to limit the risk to your brand’s reputation with ISPs as you are less likely to take a big hit if only one of your many email addresses makes a mistake (e.g. bouncing frequently, receiving a lot of spam complaints, having many of its emails remain unopened). 

This process is intricate and methodical. Creating ten new domains can’t solve deliverability problems because brand new domains also lack authority. If an ISP’s filters see that a brand new email address is sending out 100,000 emails, it’s likely that it’ll be swept to the side. Which brings us to our next point!

Take it slow

Scaling your program too quickly is heavily penalized even among senders with high engagements. Many well-established companies that want to build a large scale email strategy with their existing customer base make this mistake, and sometimes there isn’t a way to fix it. Placing strict limits on email volume growth can help ensure that ISPs don’t flag your domain.

Track your data

Set your benchmarks, track your performance, and make changes as you go. Data is the life blood of a scalable email program. As you’ve seen, there’s a lot to keep track of, and if any segments of your strategy spring a leak, the ship might sink. 

By frequently and carefully monitoring performance—from open and click rates to inboxing rates to bounce rates—you can maintain a full view of your email strategy and make improvements as you build. 

No one has the power to flip a switch and send millions of emails per month without risk, but if you build slowly, you can lay the foundation for a successful email strategy. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below! 

TrueAccord sends 40x more emails and has up to 70% higher inboxing rates than other collection agencies. Chat with our team today to learn more about what that means for you!