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SMS Conversations: The Next Step For Collections




Mark-OppermanStrategic use of SMS text messaging is an effective and efficient way of reaching out to customers to increase promises-to-pay and collections performance. Mark Oppermann, Development Director at customer interactive messaging leader VoiceSage, explains theory and best practice here

Chasing customers and trying to get them to make a payment is a labour intensive, disjointed and costly process. Bombarding customers with letters, e-mails, one way texts and calls is ineffective. After a certain point customers avoid all attempts to engage them in a meaningful conversation about their debt. They have stopped listening. This does neither party any good. We need to create a bit of space to enable the customer to gather their thoughts, to ready themselves, to overcome their embarrassment, and to engage on the issue they have avoided for so long.

So where does SMS text messaging come in? It is used by almost everyone and has incredible reach. It can be used with even the most basic kind of mobile handsets as well as smartphones. It is embedded in everyday casual interactions, it can be discreet, and it is appreciated by customers where the communication is of value to them. However to date it has occupied a fairly low position in the priority list of most contact centre executives because its power is underestimated. In the mind of executives it might seem a rather “low tech” and an unsophisticated way of communicating. Yet personalised, context sensitive communications tailored to the individual’s preferences is the secret to successful outcomes.

The new concept of “SMS Conversations” delivers these outcomes. It is a powerful and proven way of reaching out to customers that is radically changing the contact process around collections. These one-to-one interactive texts messaging sessions between an agent and customers can deliver huge benefits in terms of improved efficiency, better utilisation of call centre agents, and improved collections performance. In particular it is a highly effective way to reach out and establish a working relationship with customers who have stopped responding to standard outbound contact processes. SMS text-based dialogues can turn defaulters into payers at a fraction of the cost of the letters and land line calls.

Why is this so effective? The UK is a nation of texters: Ofcom released data last year that showed the average Briton now sends 50 texts a week, with over 150 billion text messages sent in 2011 alone. Almost all (96%) 16-24s use some form of text-based application on a daily basis to communicate with friends and family.

However the fact that people love to text and are comfortable with the medium is only part of the reason why using a SMS text messaging is hitting the mark for customer contact teams. The other factor is that it balances intimacy with distance in a way that cannot be achieved within a real time telephone call with a live agent.

Stressed-out customers can respond to texts in their own time and don’t feel as “put on the spot” as if they’d answered a call and were connected to a live agent. There is also less psychological risk for the customer in offering a payment suggestion via SMS as opposed to over the phone in a live call as it removes the completely human fear of rejection.

So how are companies using SMS text messaging to improve collection performance? Simple. They’ve changed texting approach from “fire and forget” to “Guided SMS Conversations” – threading inbound SMS responses with outbound replies from the agent, seeing how conversations are flowing and determining how best to prompt customers to next steps. In essence SMS conversations engage each customer in a one-to-one text messaging session with an agent about their outstanding balances and it has resulted in some staggeringly positive outcomes.

For example, previously on a customer file of 10,000, using 30 agents and a dialler, 200 promises- to-pay were achieved with a kept rate (that is the customer adhering to the agreement) of 64%. Using SMS conversations, 192 promises-to-pay were achieved, with a kept rate of 75%, but using only two agents. SMS conversations are delivering the same, if not better, collections and promises-to-pay performances. When used as part of an overall messaging strategy, SMS conversations are effective at various stages of the debt cycle and particularly in late stage debt collections.

The added benefits of this particular type of “conversational engagement” is that it is fully compliant and has complete audit trail capabilities. Coupled with right party contact verification it has proven to be very effective and efficient. Developing a connection with a customer is a good way of opening up channels of communication allowing the customer to feel comfortable when discussing their personal situation. In terms of messaging and customer contact, context really is king.

Improved collection ratios

In fact organisations like Clarity Credit Management and Vanquis Bank have started to use this service and are already reporting boosted efficiency, markedly improved collection ratios and agent efficiencies and significantly improved relationship with customers. The latter, a leading UK-based credit card company, says, “Sometimes people just end up embarrassed about a problem. In some cases, if you pound them with outbound calls, they will just stop dealing with you.”

Operating a hugely successful credit risk operations, clients are now converting more late-stage ‘promises to pay’ to completed transactions – with 60% less agent resource – using this approach. In the collection arena, without a proven and consistent real-time contact strategy, eliciting payments from customers is becoming increasingly difficult. Excessive or badly-timed outbound contact impacts the relationship with customers, is expensive and also undermines profitability. At a time when consumers have never been so demanding nor resources or profits more stretched, flexible, automated and pre-emptive debt collection has to be the way to go.

Commenting on SMS conversations, Vanquis Bank’ Head of Credit Operations comments: “We’ve just started this using this capability and it has been exceptionally well received by our customers. Sometimes technology can hinder what you’re trying to do, but this is a real enabler.”

In addition, using SMS as an interactive, rapid-response mechanism to connect with defaulting customers is only one benefit of the medium. It is also a useful way to engage with your customers and deepen their interest in any new products or services. Banks can text customers during the various approval stages of a financial product, telling them where they are in the approval cycle (“your loan application is being processed now,” and so on). It’s also a great way to offer value added services, texting people with an up-to-date balance on a particular account.

In conclusion, when there is an on-going dialogue with customers, then SMS Conversations are simply part of the next generation of debt collection. Companies need to make sure that their collection processes are easy to use, unobtrusive, and convenient to the end customer which means the enterprise must continuously evolve their understanding of the customers’ communication preferences. Making it personal means treating different people individually. The more you can understand and accommodate an individual’s values, the greater your ability to influence the outcome. Technology makes this possible to a degree you may have never imagined before.

The author is Development Director at VoiceSage (, a business services company which provides state of the art interactive voice messaging (IVM) and SMS solutions


Mobile engagement will prove vital for enhanced customer experience in the world of finance



Mobile engagement will prove vital for enhanced customer experience in the world of finance 1

By Nick Millward, VP Europe at mGage

With the world becoming more digital – as smartphones play an intrinsic part of everyday life – customer behaviours are changing, and the financial services industry should look to further enhance their mobile engagement to deliver exceptional experience and increase customer loyalty. With Gartner predicting that 89 percent of businesses are facing competition based predominantly on the consumer experience, the need for excellent customer service has never been greater.

Today, customers require a seamless experience from their financial service providers, where banking tasks can be handled easily and securely from mobile devices. They also expect businesses to be present at whatever time they want and on whichever channel they use the most.

In fact, 73 percent say they are more likely to leverage digital banking and payments following the current situation. Therefore, financial brands need to commit to a move to mobile and allow a variety of financial tasks to be carried out via mobile messaging to deliver exceptional customer service, which in turn will increase customer retention.

Mobile channels for financial services

Consumers are clear about how they want brands to communicate with them. They want brands to take note of their preferences for which platform to use, to deliver them engaging and interesting messages, or send them information that makes their lives easier, and they want brands to provide some assurance that they have got security right too. There are a variety of channels available for financial services to utilise without customers having to download additional applications from those that they already use frequently. From next-generation Rich Communication Services (RCS), to Push Notifications and SMS, these are all perfect communication platforms for delivering the best possible customer service.

To meet customer demand for more conversational and personalised interaction, businesses should utilise the new RCS messaging platform, which brings text messages to life. In the financial sector, RCS can act as a customer’s real-time branded personal assistant where queries can be answered within the platform by utilising automated chat and rich media items such as mini bank statements can be sent. RCS also builds customer trust with features such as logos and branding and the verified sender scheme, which provides an additional layer of security and boosts consumer confidence. As a platform, RCS can achieve 14 times higher engagement rates and has a two-way nature allowing for users to initiate conversations.

The utilisation of Push Notifications can also prove beneficial for the financial sector to complement the growing use of banking apps, with the message being delivered to the mobile device without the user having to be in the mobile app itself. It allows banks to send timely, relevant notifications to their customers – whether to check a balance, review the latest interest rates, or inform them of the approval of an application. With 55 percent of consumers using their mobile banking app as the primary way to check their account balance, Push Notifications are a key way to alert customers to any changes or important information that they need to be aware of, without relying on them opening the app. Being the most universal form of non-voice communication, SMS is available on any mobile phone device and will remain a key part of a brand’s communication strategy as a channel that many people know how to use, regardless of their demographic. SMS messaging has provided financial institutions with a ubiquitous channel to support the customer journey, with 83 percent of financial organisations confirming that after deploying this technology they have witnessed a greatly improved customer experience.

SMS still remains a technology that can increase efficiency while lowering service costs – providing a cheaper and faster service for consumers that often results in a better service experience too. This will prove key for banks and financial organisations that do not have large call centres, giving customers an alternative form of contact. It also gives businesses a tool for a variety of tasks, such as sending balance updates, fraud alerts, one-time password and payment reminders, as well as using it to verify any new transactions or payees that have been set up via a banking app.

Offering a range of innovative solutions which each bring their own benefits, the power of mobile messaging must not be underestimated, with 88 percent of financial organisations admitting that it has greatly impacted their customer experience. Through these channels, brands can achieve higher rates of engagement in line with customer expectations for instant support.

Customers want brands on mobile

As the world becomes more digital, customers are demanding a move to mobile, making it essential for brands to leverage mobile messaging or enhance their current offering to stay ahead of the competition. With two thirds of consumers now preferring to use text over voice when receiving customer service and 77 percent of people aged 18-34 saying they are likely to have a positive perception of a company offering text capabilities, it is clear that there is a large appetite for these solutions.

With these channels, users can receive support or raise an issue at a time of their choosing to give ultimate convenience. For example, RCS and SMS can be used to report lost or stolen cards, or raise a query relating to a transaction instantaneously without having to wait on the phone for long periods of time.

With 78 percent of consumers admitting that texts have given them more autonomy and confidence when interacting with their bank due to the convenience and accessibility it offers, mobile messaging has proven to be a beneficial resource to improve the customer journey in the financial sector.

Future of messaging

In today’s industry, where customer loyalty is highly valued and it is relatively easy to switch banks, it is imperative that businesses provide the best customer experience and offer a competitive edge. By utilising mobile messaging and enhancing their current communications, brands can unlock convenience and customer-centricity to receive heightened levels of engagement and stay relevant to their customers.

With operational savings by as much as 20 percent, it highlights just how beneficial mobile messaging can be for financial service organisations worldwide. By listening to customer expectations and the growing trends being witnessed in the industry, financial institutions can leverage such solutions to achieve the associated advantages to set them apart from their competition and ensure their success in the future.

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Why are there so few female CEOs and what does it take to succeed in a male dominated industry?



Why are there so few female CEOs and what does it take to succeed in a male dominated industry? 2

By Gayle Carpenter, Director of creative agency, Sparkloop  

When you think about inspirational female leaders or role models, names such as Malala Yousafzai, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama, spring to mind.

But for me, I just can’t get Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl out of my head, strutting her stuff in those 1980’s shoulder pads! That film was pretty ground-breaking, addressing previously unspoken topics such as equal rights for women in the workplace, feminism, and the wage gap; topics that are still relevant today.

Although twenty years on, have things changed much for the role of women in the workplace? From where I’m standing as a female Creative Director, women are still striving to be treated equally.  So actually, things haven’t really moved on and efforts to redress this balance are moving all too slowly.

In 2016, Forbes cited that women made up only 11% of creative directors worldwide. Looking at current statistics, over 2 million people are employed in the creative industry in the UK, but there is still a glaring gender imbalance faced by the entire sector with just 12%-16% of creative directors across design, concept and film being female.*

We talk about the tide turning but is it really? And when? What do we do about it?

The Importance of Female Role Models

The next statistic from Forbes is one that resonates  the most with me and is something we absolutely need to address: 88% of young women say they lack female role models in the industry.

I have worked hard to become one of that 12%-16% who can write ‘Creative Director’ in my email signature and therefore feel that this role comes with a huge responsibility to be a role model,  to be someone that other aspiring female directors can relate to, learn from and be encouraged by. It is my duty, and the duty of all females in the same position, to look over my shoulder and encourage women to follow me rather than forging ahead and leaving them in my wake.

Realise the Dream

To stay at the top and thrive, there are a number of factors that I adhere to:

Be confident in your ability – embrace what YOU can bring to the table and enhance the positive differences.

Have empathy – Encourage team members to feel safe and confident in their own abilities.

Build a great team around you – Your team is largely your key to success, so it is essential to take time to choose the right people to support you. In my experience, female led teams are often more loyal as they thrive on the support and empathy they are shown.

An article from the Harvard Kennedy School cites that ‘Previous research has shown that mixed gender teams are more generous and egalitarian, and that teams with a larger percentage of women perform better by building meaningful relationships and creating successful work processes.’

Gayle Carpenter

Gayle Carpenter

Be heard but don’t shout – strike a balance between being heard and being too confident. You have an opinion and it matters but you can cut through the noise rather than shout above it.

An equal partnership

On a personal level, women are, of course, traditionally disadvantaged if they have to take time out of their career to start a family. Challenge the perception that this automatically pushes you back down the career ladder and encourage partners to become a more equal co-parent. Sharing the responsibility will afford you the opportunity to pursue your career, and with less guilt.

Old boys rule

There are definitely hurdles which continue to make it difficult for women to get to the top and the most evident one in my experience is that despite ‘times changing’ and women starting to bridge that gaping male/female divide, there is still an old boys network at play.

As I have moved up this male dominated career ladder, it has definitely been a challenge to be taken seriously. At times, being female has hampered my chance of winning work and I have definitely been treated differently to men in the process. A particular anecdote from my career highlights this reality – when I was leading a design team, despite my professional, calm nature and passionate yet measured opinions, I was still referred to by the all-male board as ‘Feisty Gayle’. My rather more ego-driven and loud male counterpart was just ‘assertive’. Why is that?

Accept and adapt

It does take courage, grit and determination to succeed at the top as a female creative director, and to earn the respect you deserve, but the advice I have given in this article is for any individual who wants to be successful in business or who wants to lead a team.

As a female leader, take the time to encourage women in all sectors to believe they can get to the top, if this is what they really want, and lead by example. Let’s face it, there isn’t much of a historical framework in place to refer to but, bit by bit, we can build one.

As an aspiring female director, and if you really want to make it, don’t fight the system as it stands. Acknowledge it and do something about it as it’s not going anywhere fast. It is important to take stock, remind yourself you are not a man, and believe that you can succeed as a female.

And you really don’t have to wear a 1980’s power suit to be taken seriously in business -– we have at least moved away from that – unless you want to of course!

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Why hybrid working will shift the economy, not ruin it



Why hybrid working will shift the economy, not ruin it 3

By Pete Braithwaite, COO at B2B self-service portal KIT Online,

Today explained that despite the major drive to get people back to the office, which the government has now U-turned on, the future comes in the form of hybrid working, which could make cities outside of London and Manchester have access to a larger pool of talent.

“When we’ve seen how well we can perform at home, the idea of going back into the office five days a week is a little unnecessary. Of course with some roles, including many in healthcare, working from home isn’t an option, some do not have the space or desire to work from home and others prefer the social and creativity aspect of working in the office, which is fine. But we can’t scare people to return to the office when they’re trying to protect themselves and their family’s health, and they can do their jobs perfectly well at home,” he said.

“The future is neither working from home or working in the office. It’s hybrid working, with the ability to work from anywhere. Being around people is what inspires some. For others, it’s nature. Who’s to say we can’t be productive by working in a retreat in the countryside so long as we have the right equipment and services to keep us connected? When people work at home during the day, the local shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in their immediate vicinity are likely to be positively impacted.  This could lead to a shift to a revitalised and more localised economy with employment spread more evenly rather than just in city centres.”

Pete Braithwaite

Pete Braithwaite

New remote-working technology has helped many companies to adapt easily to the new ways of working. Many national and international teams were already using video-conferencing software but this has become the day-to-day modus operandi for most successful teams now. Other companies have taken the opportunity to review their systems and ensure that they are fit for a more distributed workforce, investing in more portable devices that help employees work anywhere around the house and balance work with parenting. The move away from a desktop reliance has made lives easier.

“The fourth industrial revolution is much closer than we thought. I fully understand that the Government wants to breathe more life into our cities, but the genie isn’t going to go back into the bottle – working from home isn’t going to go back to being only when someone has a doctor’s appointment.

“Instead, there needs to be a blended way of working. Otherwise, the best people will leave for a business which is adapting faster.”

His comments come after some claimed the demise of the so-called ‘Pret economy’, whereby fewer people are going to cafes, shops and restaurants on their lunch and on their commute. But Braithwaite delves on the recent story of the CEO of Pret, who announced last week that instead of following businesses, they’re now following their customers.  Pret has adapted its business model, using Deliveroo to deliver at home and to students, selling coffee beans in Waitrose and, most radically, introducing a coffee subscription model.

“Successful companies aren’t downsizing, but instead they’re adapting. The future will be leaner and the economy will shift as people spend their money differently, such as in suburbs and on home renovation.”

Recent stats revealed that numbers of people spending in London’s suburban town centres have picked up fast, and small independent traders in towns such as Okehampton recently reported more customers through their doors, after a recent YouGov poll found 30% of consumers say they have used local retailers more since the pandemic hit.

“Cities won’t die, but well-paid workers, with the rise in remote working, could actually become less congregated in London, and spread themselves thinner, thus spending more in other locations. IT will need careful investment, and human interaction will still be King, but you don’t need to have one without the other,” he concluded.

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