coeo podcast ep 3: Is social media an acceptable channel in collections?

Welcome to the third episode of our ‘The Big Questions’ podcast series, where we bring you a panel of experts from our recent live event ‘Collections in the Digital Age’.

Our first-class line up were challenged on the day to dive deep and discuss the ‘biggest questions’ facing the collections industry in the age of technology.

The impact of social media on the financial sector has been incredible. Research finds nearly all Fortune 500 financial services organisations have active social media profiles, and in the UK alone there is an amazing 42 million users, leaving no doubt of the engagement muscle.

We know social media is a powerful communications tool but the next question we then need to ask is; is it an appropriate or acceptable channel for the collections industry to use to interact with customers?

In this episode our panel tackles this question head on.


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
    • With a senior management background, Gary’s experience includes Senior Strategy Consultant in different utility businesses in the UK including e.onFirst and now Spark. Further to this, Gary spent over 5 years at Dollar Financial Group enhancing and honing his strategic skills.
  • Caroline Burston (CB) Operations Director at coeo
    • 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 coeo 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.

Hosted by:

  • James Squires (JS) Business Development Director at coeo

Interested in our services? To book a digital, self-isolation friendly, meeting.

Now that you’ve met the panel let’s see how they wrestled with this ‘Big Question’, it kicks off with our host on the day James Squires…

JS:  Is social media an acceptable channel in collections whether that be inbound or outbound? Lisa do you mind if I start with yourself?”

LB: “No, but a lot of it is down to customer preference and how your customers have interacted with you in the first place.”

“Social media is one of those where it has to be managed very carefully; it’s all in the public eye. You can’t stop a customer coming to you on social media, but it’s how you manage what lands on there and how quickly you can get them into a private message. But ultimately the point of this is: it’s not about how they communicate; it’s about giving them the choice of communication.”

“From our point of view most of our customers buy online from us. We know they’ve got a preference for an online journey, so we make sure when it comes to collections we offer them all the varied from online payments, to payments in the IVR. Do they want to talk to someone about those more difficult ones?”

“I think what they’ve touched on today around multichannel is absolutely right, it’s taking it that step further into what was called omni-channel if you’ve heard of it in the contact centre world, so it’s about being able to do that channel shift.”

“The chatbot and the results that these guys have spoken about today are phenomenal results, but it’s making sure that when you’re in that chatbot the customer can seamlessly move and say ‘actually this bot has got me so far but I’ve still got some questions, actually now I want chat to a human’ and how you simplistically send that link across and enable them to do that and then from that point ‘actually, no still not working I need a conversation’.”

“So, for those more difficult conversations it’s how you then send them a number that links them straight away and says, ‘yep phone that number now I’ve got someone available that can talk this through with you immediately’.”

“It’s important to have your systems link up so that the agent that lands with that phone call has got an absolute history of what was said by the chatbot with the customer: that’s the web chat so the agent that lands on it has got a full history of that conversation and the customer is not starting from scratch. And I’d add don’t be deceived by their analytics stuff that they can do around chat and how to automate it, it’s brilliant.”

“It takes a while, I’m sure you guys have felt the pain, but before you can put anything live in a chatbot or across your emails you need a minimum of 3 to 6 months of doing nothing other than putting data analytics over the top of it. Listening to everything that comes out of that and then from that data you then have to start deciphering, from a chatbot point of view, what are the right answers to give back to these questions because customers bless them will ask the same thing in about a million different ways and it’s just being able to decipher that. And from an analytics point of view that data analytics journey never ends. You’re constantly reviewing it; you’re constantly doing it. So yes to achieve the 60-70% online ‘no customer contact’ efficiencies that we would all love to have you do need to make sure you do the thing from the start right and invest the time in understanding your analytics and you customer needs or else it will fail fairly fast.”

CB: “Have you been looking at the coeo project plan? ha ha. Because you’re absolutely right there is a constant, constant, constant review – we’ll never ever, ever, ever stop reviewing the bot’s responses, the website and the journeys that the customers take on those, it’s months and months and years of research and studying.”

LB: “Can you use social media? You can use any communication method that the customer is happy to interact with. Ultimately, it’s not about what you want to use it’s about what the customer wants to use and what are they more comfortable doing.”

“So, as we talk about the new generation coming up that don’t like to have phone calls, then you’ve also got the element of: people don’t like to talk about debt, it’s an emotive subject; people don’t want to talk about it. If they’ve got the option to go online and just pay and not have to have a difficult conversation, most customers, as we can see, will take that route so it’s just giving them an option.”

“Then the ones that really do need a conversation because they can’t afford it. It’s allowing that channel of actually I do need to pick up the phone. And you said with these guys having someone that you know within 20 seconds is going to answer you and be able to give you a reassuring proper assessment of your financial needs.”

JS: “Its funny actually you started that whole sentence there about how it really depended on how the customer first came in to the business and I wonder then if I could just pick up on that point and say: so I broke the question down initially into whether we found it acceptable to use social media which is a very personal platform isn’t it? And whether we accept that actually it’s ok to receive that inbound and then communicate outbound or whether actually its ok to flip that and make assumptions as to whether we can communicate out initially on social media?”

LB: “I’d say initially social; social is probably the least used method of communication because it can be public. I mean if we’re doing it, we’re going to do it in a private way, but people use social for their private lives and it can feel quite intrusive if you start going into that space.”

“You know thinking about Facebook, stuff like that, you’ve got your friends on there, you’ve got your family photos. You don’t really want a debt collection agency coming along and going ‘hiya, can I have some money please’. However if they come to you and engage with you on that platform then yes absolutely keep them in their channel of choice. That’s how they want to do it. That’s what they feel comfortable in. Keep them in that channel as much as you can.”

JS: “Tony, again listening to what Lisa was saying there, it’s coming through loud and clear that we need to be very adaptive and we need to react to how the customer wants us to communicate. Do you agree with those sentiments around inbound and outbound communication with social media?”

TG: “Yes, to a large extent. I think with social media, a lot of companies will use it in terms of their marketing strategy, and they’ll try and place ads in front of the right type of demographics and segments, which is a little bit different, but even in there it’s not always seen as appropriate.”

“Obviously, you’ve got your various influencers out there that people are trying to use as part of their marketing strategy as well, but I think that’s still slightly remote. Whereas what you seem to be talking about is direct contact through social media which I think is a completely different thing and I’m not always sure that certainly some types of customers would understand what is actually going in the public domain as a result of the conversation they’re having with you. So, I would be very weary of going down that route without some real clarity from the customer that they understand exactly how the communication is going to go and what can and can’t be said.”

“I think before you would engage into a full-on, ‘this is your outstanding balance’, ‘this is what we want you to do’ etc. I think you’d have to have a lot of clarity that the customer understood that, or you’d find quite quickly your complaint levels going up considerably.”

“I think its maybe got a place and maybe it’s in the softer side of collections but again it’s all about have you got the customers to consent to do what you’re going to do? Do they understand fully what they’re opening themselves up to?”

“So, I think we’ve probably got quite a way to go before that would come in. And plus social media trends are changing you know Instagram is far bigger than Facebook nowadays so what do you do? Pop a picture of something up there for them to do, so you know I think it’s not as simple as that I think there’s a lot to be considered before I would go down that route.”

Thanks for joining us and be sure to tune in to Episode 4: ‘Should relatable language be used in the collections process?‘ next week.

To listen to more of ‘The Big Questions’ series to visit The coeo Podcast SoundCloud page