Automation – for many years now it’s been speeding up and scaling up the way that hundreds of different industries operate. Whenever technological solutions are used to replace human workers, there are a variety of ethical and business issues to consider – especially if automated systems are having direct contact with customers.
That’s the situation we’re starting to see as some Financial Services organisations are using automated, technology-led solutions for their Collections function. Where there would previously have been a real person making a live phone call to a customer who has fallen behind on payment, there may now be an automated robocall or if a customer is reaching out to the business they might be directed to web-chat with a bot. It’s an attractive option for businesses, offering uniform speed and approach and saving them money. Or so it can seem at first.
I think automating customer contact functions in relation to Collections is particularly perilous right now. We know there is a current regulatory focus on vulnerable customers and that one of the FCA’s key criteria for determining vulnerability Is digital access and tech literacy. If a customer isn’t online or lacks the understanding of computers needed to use your web interface, that’s an already vulnerable customer being put in a difficult position where they may well want to make a complaint.
We also know that customers in general, especially if they’re distressed or upset about their financial situation, prefer the empathy and sense of being heard that comes with real human interaction and a personal approach to customer care. Again, I expect firms that either no longer offer this or make it harder to access will be facing complaints.
I’m not anti-technology by any means and I think so many of the ways that technology-led approaches have revolutionised the Financial Services world are so exciting and hold huge amounts of promise for where we go next, but right now in the specific case of collections, I think firms need to be strategic in their use of technology and how it fits in with their human resource. Is it cheaper to buy in a system instead of having a team of staff? Maybe at first, but if your system begins to generate complaints, you could be facing regulatory scrutiny, having to pay more to replace or augment that system, and potentially having to uphold complaints from vulnerable customers negatively affected.
To me, it seems much more sensible to invest in Collections staff who understand the needs of vulnerable customers and who are able to address those properly from the outset. Kind Consultancy is able to provide consultants who can train your pre-existing staff on working with vulnerable customers. Through Kind Agile Solutions, we can provide a full team of Collections staff who already have that knowledge and experience. Or, through our partnership with TieTa we can connect you to an outsourced, off-site, human solution, again, always with professionals who have that crucial knowledge of how to work with vulnerable customers and have a history of speaking to them in an empathetic way.
Contact me on 01216432100 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential discussion of how we can help you with Collections resource or training needs.
[We regularly blog about current issues in the world of Collections, as well as Governance, Risk, Compliance and Complaints – see all of those posts in our News section]
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