Improving customer engagement when talking about debt
We sat down with Revive Account Manager, Sam Jones, to find out more about the steps needed to create effective engagement for the most vulnerable customers.
The industry is changing.
As consumers, we’ve come to expect more, maybe even demand it. We want informative, real, and meaningful experiences with businesses.
Over the last year the pandemic has dramatically impacted the way we live, work, and interact - not just with our families and friends, but with the companies and businesses we choose to buy from or provide us with a service, especially when the going gets tough. The knock-on effect of managing the crisis has severely impacted the economy, the job market and in turn, personal finances.
“No one customer is exactly the same; you can profile them, slice and dice the data but the crux of it is – what does your customer need, want or expect from you as their provider depending on their circumstances?” explains Sam.
Over the course of 2020 and into the new year, Dan had his hours cut continually and has found it difficult to pick up additional hours or work that can supplement the amount he’s lost.
He’s never been in this position before; he has emails, letters, text messages and phone calls from a variety of companies asking him to take an action and is struggling to understand what he’s needs to do next and prioritise - it’s hard to know where to turn.
There’s a stigma around financial hardship and debt, alongside intimidation tactics that have been utilised in the past, this all can render a customer like Dan, helpless and feel like they have nowhere to turn.
“If we look at these essential communications and the experiences that can lead customers to end up in demanding and stressful scenarios, it’s important to make sure the experience is seen from the perspective of the end-user – in this case, Dan, the recipient of the communication."
"When it comes to challenging scenarios, how can we make it easier for Dan to take action and move forward?” Sam asks.
Debt – Understanding financial vulnerability.
Being in debt or struggling financially still leaves people fighting a social stigma and feeling unable to get the support they need. Research revealed that a staggering 73% of people feel embarrassed to reach out for debt support according to PayPlan (Credit Connect).
In order for this to change we need to look at debt and financial hardship differently and understand the risk factors that businesses can identify to appropriately inform, support, and minimise the prospect of those customers finding themselves in the same circumstances in the future.
Sam explains, “We’ve seen the importance of being proactive in this area for our clients’ customers continue to rise over the last year, and the emphasis on being clear, informative and sensitive is essential to help drive action and deliver support effectively.”
Often when thinking about those most vulnerable, we can focus on elderly people or those with a disability, however in reality, the risk of vulnerability peaks around 25-34 years of age as people gain their independence, leave higher education, start families, and buy their first houses with around 23% of people over-indebted. (FCA research).
When talking to you customers in a written format – how simple have you made it for them to act? According to the Literacy Trust, for almost 15% of adults in the UK have a reading level equivalent to a 9-11 year old child To put this into context, 1 in 7 people who receive a household bill may not be able to understand it clearly.
Humanising communications to create trusted interactions.
Brands on social media regularly utilise emotion in their approach to engage with their followers and fans – it’s easy to see how powerful the engagement between a business and their customers can be. For example, the recent social media splash from Heinz and Weetabix managed to generate a lot of buzz by tapping into a key emotional driver, be it light-hearted outrage and other brands managed to respond showcasing the real people behind the corporate front.
Whether you’re a water company, high street retailer or a bank, by leading with an honest, human approach in communications you can connect with your customers, build trust, and develop meaningful interactions and conversations, even with the most sensitive of issues.
Building a strategy that promotes customer trust.
So, how can you ensure you get the message across while building trust and ensuring a meaningful conversation happens?
There are 5 key components:
A key place to start is with your data. Looking into your customer data and mapping out the various circumstances a customer may find themselves and at what stage will bring to light a variety of scenarios and therefore create a solid foundation to build journeys from.
Understanding where a customer sits in their debt challenge is a fundamental piece of data which can serve as a trigger for your communication. These can be flags such as “previously missed a payment” or “increased credit card usage” etc. Having customer profiles created as part of your segmentation you can then look to see which type of flags are available – this can then lead to pro-active communications as opposed to relying on reactive campaigns post event.
For example, if you have data available which give you visibility of a customer who could be in a vulnerable situation – now is the time to communicate, prior to missed payments or the customer being unresponsive further down the line. With 66% of consumers waiting over a year to do something about their debts (PayPlan), the sooner your business can offer help the greater the uptake and positive resolutions there will be.
The channel you choose to send your business communication from is as important as the message itself. Digital communications such as email and SMS bring a wealth of efficiency benefits such as ease, speed, and customisation. However, it’s important to look at a channel’s suitability for the customer themselves, for example, if you know a customer has sight problems or perhaps a digital challenge an email may be a poor choice compared to a voice message or letter in braille or large print.
4. Tone and message
The message and tone you sent out to your customer sets the precedent on how your business will be perceived. To help build trust, it’s critical that when dealing with sensitive subjects the tone of message is caring, thoughtful and human. The Government says it will legislate to change the language in debt letters, as well as the way information is presented (Money Saving Expert), changes such as no longer utilising capital letters and to use plain English in communication to customers.
5. Call to action
Your communication needs to add value and have a reason behind it being sent. It’s important to think in terms of what you want the customer to do or think of from the information you’ve provided. That could be to call in, pay their bill via a link or simply be aware. Not all communications need to have a follow up – information provided at the right time is powerful and really shows you know your customer and what they may be going through.
So, what does this mean for the future?
2021 is set to be the year where customer experience enhanced by digital communications comes into its own.
Sam concludes “Last year became all about companies finally making the move to more flexible, integrated solutions to reach their customers. This year, we expect more businesses to make those big shifts and increase their focus on sensitive and customer experiences and by further refining their messaging, channels, and access across key industries like utilities to retail to finance. “
"Now really is the time to commit to relevant, tangible and powerful customer experiences across all channels and listen to the customer on how they need and want to be interacted with – a true partnership.”