Your brand is much more than a logo, a strapline, or the products or services you offer. Whilst it clearly is a combination of all of these things it’s also reflected in every communication touchpoint you have with current or potential customers.
Think about it – how many times have you considered ditching a service provider when you’ve not been able to get through to their helpline? Or when a company reached out to you in a positive, genuinely helpful way, did it make you want to get back in touch? Forbes reports that a staggering 67% of customers are willing to switch brands because of a poor customer experience. The way a brand interacts with its consumers can massively impact its reputation and a negative experience can do irrevocable damage.
But we always need to remember that the customer journey doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have a definite end. You want to keep customers engaged for as long as possible so that they become advocates of your brand, building trust and credibility to both attract and retain. In a world where everyone has a platform to shout from about their experiences, you want to make sure your organisation is talked about for all the right reasons.
And whilst marketers are all well aware of how important it is to capture that prospect and keep them engaged after they’ve made the initial sale, some of the most overlooked customers are the ones that fall into debt. How does their experience impact your brand reputation? While internal and external debt collection strategies need to recoup as much money as possible, it shouldn’t be to the detriment of your brand.
We’re joining the dots between debt management and brand reputation, highlighting just how vital the connection between them is…
Why do marketers need to pay attention to customers in debt?
With as many as 8.3 million people dealing with problem debt in the UK and 350 people a day declaring bankruptcy, more customers than ever are finding themselves in challenging situations. The top three causes of debt are reduced income, unemployment or redundancy, all things that could happen to anyone, at any time. But people in debt are, ultimately, still a customer. And, more importantly, could be rehabilitated once debt-free to become active once more – it’s much easier and cheaper to retain a customer than it is to attract a new one, something that all organisations need to be aware of when considering their retention strategies.
Adopting a customer-centric approach to debt collection
How a company engages with its customers is essential in building valuable relationships and this is arguably never more important than when it handles somebody facing payment difficulties. All too often, debt collection strategies can be prone to heavy-handed tactics, abandoning elements of the brand’s tone of voice and the core values that built their reputation in the first place.
The benefits of adopting a customer-centric approach to collections speak for themselves – inevitably improving customer satisfaction and advocacy, plus lowering complaints and reluctance to pay. Collection rates improve because the customer is treated empathetically and is viewed as someone worth helping, rather than a stigmatised account the business just needs to get off their books.
But how can the gap be bridged between debt collection and customer experience?
To achieve a more inclusive and complete end-to-end customer journey, businesses need to take several important steps to evaluate and evolve their debt collection strategy, with the customer’s wellbeing and potential rehabilitation a priority.
Implement clear, brand-led training
To the customer, the collections agent is the face of the brand. They are now responsible for maintaining everything that the sales and marketing teams worked so hard to create. Though they’re stepping in at a negative stage in the customer’s journey, it’s more important than ever that they espouse the brand’s core values and tone of voice.
Collaboration between the marketing and collections teams can help develop a greater level of understanding. Things like buyer personas and tone of voice documents are important tools, whilst joint workshops can really harmonise the two teams and build a greater appreciation of the issues facing both areas of the business. Listening in on calls and reviewing what kind of communications are sent out to customers allows room for suggestions from a brand perspective, whilst collections agents can provide insight into the problems faced by their customers.
Understand and interrogate data
Your customer data is a goldmine of valuable information to learn from. Most organisations have made reasonable progress in segmenting this data into those that forgot to pay, are struggling to pay or are refusing to pay. However, only a minority fully utilise this insight to develop more effective collections strategies for each customer segment with tailored communications, based on their channel preferences. Data analytics can also provide clear indications of the customer’s likely path – you can effectively identify those at risk at an earlier stage in the process and potentially avoid a customer defaulting. Things like credit score, employment status, demographics and payment patterns all act as key indicators for how likely the customer is to pay.
Marketers spend countless hours analysing and understanding how a potential customer engages with sales emails and marketing communications, but do they consider how they react and respond to debt collection communications? The same skills required to optimise conversion rates can be shared across debt collection strategies to improve success rates and help to maintain brand consistency across all areas of the business. By utilising intelligent analytics and sharing resources across the business, profit margins can be optimised through improved customer retention and enhanced debt collection rates.
Utilise digital more effectively
Whilst significant work is being done to reduce the stigma attached to debt, it’s still one of the biggest causes of why people are reluctant to seek help. Digital technologies can help alleviate this sense of embarrassment by providing a simplified and non-personal channel of communication, that the user can feel more comfortable using rather than phone calls and physical letters. With over two-thirds of the UK using online banking and almost half using mobile banking, consumers will feel more comfortable and receptive to digital communications.
Carefully consider your debt purchase partners and how they approach debt collection...
Organisations should consider at what stage of the customer journey they sell their debt to a third-party – the earlier they sell their debt the higher the price will be, but equally importantly the customer will also benefit from a more streamlined collections experience and a positive outcome. Companies should carefully consider who they choose to partner with as they will essentially become an extension of their brand and will need to uphold the same values and ethics to protect their reputation. More often than not, a customer will still associate the debt with your brand – regardless of who is chasing for it to be paid.
So, in selecting the right debt purchaser to work with, whilst price is clearly an important consideration, there are several other factors that should be taken into account. These are:
- their ability to act in a way that complements your brand
- their track record in treating people the right way and always seeking the right outcome for the customer
- their own brand values and how these are manifested in every touchpoint with a customer
- their ability and willingness to help you optimise your internal collections processes
- their understanding of the role that debt management plays in the overall customer journey
- their ability to help rehabilitate customers
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