Let’s face it. Debt collection and recovery call centers don’t have a great reputation with consumers.
Why? Because some people buy things they can’t afford or encounter circumstances later on that cause them to become delinquent in their payments. Others amass medical bills over time and become financially strapped. As a result, someone from the organization or a debt collections or recovery agency must reach out to them to collect what is owed. For these consumers, this will not be a welcome call.
For those who work in collections and debt recovery call centers, this scenario is a day-to-day reality. In addition to initiating difficult conversations, agents also must adhere to regulatory compliance requirements, while also striking the right balance between customer satisfaction and goal achievement. Sometimes this work can take its toll, making it a challenge for collectors to stay motivated and on track.
To make the process less stressful on collectors and ultimately a more pleasant experience for consumers, many institutions are using gamification in their contact centers. Gamification, which uses game mechanics to drive desired behaviors, leverages science-based motivational techniques to train, provide ongoing feedback to and reward collectors for improved business outcomes.
How do contact centers ensure that they reward the agent behaviors that will lead to the best results for consumers and the company? It all begins with defining the skills that have been proven to achieve the desired outcomes for all involved. These outcomes typically fall into three main categories – customer experience and satisfaction, regulatory compliance and revenue recovery. Defining the key performance indicators (KPIs) in each of these areas will help you determine what to reward through gamification.
Successful Debt Collection Techniques
The days of debt collection being solely about the money are long gone. As in all businesses today, customer-centricity is most important for success. No two persons’ circumstances are exactly the same. Each individual deserves to have a unique situation considered when creating a debt payment plan. The better a collector is at providing a good experience for the customer, the more likely they are to maximize collection/recovery in less time. The result is a win-win for all parties.
The soft skills that help debt recovery agents improve customer experience and satisfaction include: effective listening, clear communication, patience, positivity, de-escalation and empathy.
Effective Listening. Customers who owe money can be particularly vulnerable. They are often embarrassed about their situation and don’t need someone to state the obvious. Agents who take the time to listen to their customers and show them respect have a greater chance of offering a solution that will meet their needs, as well as the company’s.
Clear Communication. When a person is behind on payments, there may be other things going on in their life that can make it difficult for them to focus on the information you need to communicate. What will be most helpful is for the agent to present the consumer’s options clearly and concisely and show them a path out of their predicament.
Patience, Positivity, De-escalation. Some customers get easily frustrated when contacted by a collector. That is why it is critically important that the agent remain patient and positive and reassure the consumer that they are there to help. If the customer becomes angry, the agent may need to de-escalate the situation by remaining calm, keeping an even tone, jotting down a few notes and then summarizing them back once the customer stops talking. Oftentimes, they just want to feel like someone is listening.
Empathy. An approach to debt collection that is quickly gaining traction is to treat the consumer with extreme kindness, by being compassionate and empathizing with their plight. When agents can put themselves in the customer’s shoes and show that they genuinely care about helping them get back on their feet, they are more likely to be successful at collecting outstanding debt.
To help agents acquire these skills, a number of collections and debt recovery call centers have built soft skills scorecards to establish goals and track progress toward achievement. Some have taken the next step, which is to gamify ongoing development. This allows them to provide automated and real-time feedback on how agents are doing against their individual, team and company goals.
There are additional ways to measure good customer experience. One measurement that has gained popularity in recent years is the Customer Effort Score (CES). Typically, this score measures how easy or difficult a customer would rate the effort required to use a product or service. In terms of Collections, CES refers to how quickly and easily the collector was able to help the consumer come to a settlement agreement. If you ever need to go back to the same customer again, it stands to reason that they will be more open to coming to a settlement agreement since they deemed you to be easy to work with in the past.
Reduce regulatory compliance risk
Ignorance is not a defense for failure to comply with the many regulations that govern debt collection and recovery contact centers. Litigation can be extensive and fines steep. Staying up to date on all the regulations and training agents on how to remain compliant can be a continuous challenge.
Some of the regulations and laws that the debt collection agency and recovery contact centers must comply with include the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank), the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) and the Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts or Practices (UDAAP) – just to name a few.
Once you understand the regulations you can define the language agents are required to use and not use on a call and the behaviors they should and should not exhibit. Some of the typical compliance languages includes:
Right-party Identification. The language used to ensure that the person the agent is talking to is in fact the debtor.
Mini-Miranda. The legal language that collectors are required to use at the beginning of a call to identify themselves as a debt collector and inform the consumer that information disclosed can be used to collect what is owed.
Call Recording Disclosure. Although individual states have different laws, this disclosure refers to the statement made at the beginning of a call specifying that the call may be recorded for quality and training purposes.
Payment Disclosure. Required authorization for setting up or stopping electronic bill payment processing.
All of this required language can be tracked and rewarded through gamification. By doing so, agents will learn what’s expected more quickly, which will lift contact center compliance overall and dramatically reduce your exposure to risk and fines.
Boost revenue recovery
Customer-centric collection or debt recovery is definitely the way to go. The more customers you help to achieve financial health, the better – not just for them, but also for your business. We’ve discussed the specific KPIs and agent behaviors necessary for customer satisfaction and compliance, now let’s take a look at some of the leading metrics to keep you on track for maximizing revenue.
First Time Payments. It may take several attempts to contact a consumer before an agent actually reaches them and secures the first payment. This increases the likelihood that subsequent payments and even automated payment setup, will occur.
First Time Payment Amounts. Some companies measure both first time payments and first-time payment amounts. Those that track first-time payment amounts usually have a minimum threshold they want their agents to hit, as this is oftentimes when they secure their largest fee. Agencies that collect for several clients will likely have different minimum thresholds for each client. Thresholds may also vary depending on whether the collection is first-party or third-party.
Promises to Pay. Although some customers do not make an actual payment at the time of the call, they do commit to making a payment within a specific timeframe. Typically, the agent states that they have noted the commitment to pay in the account record and this is enough to motivate the customer to make the payment.
Payment in Full (PIF). On occasion, people just forget to pay and the organization waits months to contact them. Once the consumer receives a call, they pay their bill in full.
Calls Per Hour (CPH). This is a measurement that can be calculated a number of different ways. For the purposes of this article, CPH is calculated by first finding the agent’s Average Handling Time (AHT – talk time, hold time and after call wrap time). Take 3660 (60 seconds in a minute times 60 minutes in an hour) and divide it by the agent’s AHT. For example, an agent with an AHT of 220 seconds, would have their CPH of 3600/220 – or 16.36.
Right Party Contacts (RPC) Rate. Measures the ratio of all calls made to those that reach the right party, or the decision-makers. This is important because the higher the number of conversations with decision-makers, the greater the rate of collection. A consistently lower RPC rate is worth investigating further. There may be an issue with the way the agent is dispositioning the calls. Or there may be an issue with the data.
Productive Time. The amount of time the agent spends logged on to the phone or engaged in customer interactions versus the amount of time they are logged onto the clock and getting paid.
Tracking each agent and agent group’s performance against these revenue-boosting KPIs can dramatically impact bottom-line results. Leveraging gamification to reward agents for revenue goal attainment, regulatory compliance and customer satisfaction helps ensure an engaged workforce and continuous improvement for years to come.