The digital age has impacted every traditional aspect of modern living and none more so than language. With an incredible 45.1 million (2019) daily internet users it has never been more important to make sure your debt collections communication style is fit for purpose.
Earlier this year we invited a guest panel of experts to take the stand at our ‘Collections in the Digital Age’ event and encouraged them to discuss some of ‘The Biggest Questions’ facing the collections industry. We recorded the discussion and have presented it as a podcast for your listening pleasure and below we’ve also added the transcript for you to explore it in detail.
In this episode the panel explores the use of ‘relatable’ language in the collections industry, discussing tone, timing and trouble (or how to avoid it).
But before we get into the transcripts let’s introduce our first-class line up of panellists:
- Gary Grey (GG) Head of Collections at Spark Energy
- Caroline Burston (CB) Operations Director at CRS
- Caroline has worked in the Debt Collection industry since 1993 and gained extensive experience at several collection agencies and solicitors’ practices. Caroline is a well-known industry figure and brings extensive compliance experience and knowledge to CRS and is also a member of the prestigious Credit 500.
- Tony Gunderson (TG) 30 years + experience in financial services
- Lisa Beeching (LB) Head of Supplier Management and Quality Assurance at 1st Central
- Lisa is currently Head of Supplier Management and Quality assurance at 1st Central Insurance and Technology managing key supplier relationships across 45 suppliers spanning all operational areas from sales through to claims.
- James Squires (JS) Business Development Director at CRS
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JS: “Is there a growing consideration that relatable or informal language should be used in the collections process? And I’ve got an example actually so terminology such as ‘oops have you forgotten something’ versus maybe ‘your payment’s overdue’, so actually changing the tone in which we speak to people. Gary, I can see you nodding your head there so do you want to start us off on this one?”
GG: “Yeah absolutely, me and Mark had a conversation on the way up in the car today around this.”
“In terms of the language, I think what a change in language can do is: give the customer a feeling that actually, the collections process has escalated.”
“So you could start off with an ‘oops it looks like you’ve missed your payment arrangement, you owe x, y and z’ and actually when you get through the collections path you can then turn it to something more formal because of course you know, in terms of our collections path, you’ll be moving onto a legal strategy potentially anyway; so that’s the sort of language that you’re heading towards.”
“I think from the more traditional side of me, I would probably in my personal opinion like a formal approach all the way through so you know exactly where you stand, but actually I think in terms of allowing the customer to understand that the heats been turned up a little bit, for want of a better word, I think it’s an opportunity to change the language a bit.”
CB: “I agree with Gary. I think the statements and the ‘oops have you forgotten your payment’ is really appropriate in early arrears but as you get through the collections journey and start to reach the legal stages then it needs to be a matter of fact and statements that, as Tim alluded to earlier, gone are the ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ but ‘this will happen as a consequence if you don’t do x, y and z’. I think it has its place depending upon where you are in the debt cycle.”
JS: “And Lisa, just really to expand that point then. Someone asked the question earlier on about what sort of analysis is now available in terms of the data that we interpret and I suppose would there be an argument to say that actually this is an area that we look to analyse the data, A/B test of statements at that early arrears stage and really try to understand actually what drives the most engagement at that stage?”
LB: “Absolutely, it’s all about where you are on that journey. So from our point of view for a customer that fails on their initial direct debit day 1 due date, what they get from us is, ‘oh we’ve not been able to collect, don’t worry we’re going to go out and retry for that, you don’t need to do anything, we’re just going to go and reapply’. And that is very softly worded, no issues. Most of those collections on the second attempt go through with no contact from the customer, it’s one of those beautiful automated things that we all love.”
“As you go down and that second one doesn’t clear then you have to make it more, you know, ‘actually you’ve now got fourteen days and if you don’t bring this up to date we’re going to cancel your policy’ it becomes a bit more of a serious message.”
“Then we have to add the words from an insurance point of view of, ‘we need to make you aware it’s a legal requirement to have your vehicle insured’ so there’s only so far you can go with the ‘oops’.”
“As well from analytics, yes you’ve got all of the profiles: so you know your customer, you know their age brackets, you probably know their preferred way of communicating so you can take bits of that and personalise those journeys for those different customers.”
“I think the stage of the collection is vital as to what goes into that and yes day 1 absolutely let’s try and keep it a bit light-hearted because people immediately feel anxious ‘oh I’ve got to pay them and take a bit of that worry away’, but once you know they’re being a bit more reluctant about giving that money over you do need to go down a much more formal process and keep it all above board so to speak.”
GG: “The other part of it is you’re obviously trying to retain a customer. You know if a customer has forgotten a payment you don’t really want to go in and be formal and for it to feel like harsh treatment, you want to retain that customer. And it’s something that we talk about quite often in the team which is, ‘you know we understand that we’re a collections department, but we also know that we need to retain a customer and just strike that balance between the two.”
JS: "Great point, great point. Thank you for that."