With tough price controls demanded by Ofwat, every option for reducing unnecessary cost in the water sector is on the table, and debt collection is no exception.
All parts of the industry are seeking to respond to the regulator’s demands for innovation and in collections, the focus is clear. Engage more customers, deliver tailored and appropriate treatment based on individual needs, improve social tariff accessibility for customers in vulnerable circumstances, resolve more arrears and do it all with less expenditure and without sacrificing customer care. No pressure, then?
Under budgetary constraints, the water sector will be looking for future-proof investments rather than quick-fix promises with underperforming legacy systems, that are earmarked for decommissioning, coming under scrutiny. A more nimble and personalised approach to collections is going to be essential in the coming years. As support for old collections systems is withdrawn, the prospect of expenditure on a new system arises. Fortunately, the big capital spend projects of the past have been replaced with a lower risk service spend, where expenditure equates more fairly to delivery, usage and time to value.
What tangible results can a modern collections system deliver?
With an intelligent collections system, water companies currently relying on letters and phone calls can expect digital engagement rates substantially higher than existing dialler activity and two-way SMS channels. Digital engagement is growing and perhaps surprisingly, is effective across the whole collections lifecycle. Two immediate benefits from this are vastly reduced cost to collect and a convenient, low-stress option for the majority of customers.
In addition, reducing reliance on agent activity allows for greater flexibility when deciding how to deploy staff and creates a useful elastic capacity to absorb cyclical fluctuations. This can have a positive impact on meeting C-MeX targets, with shorter call-waiting times and agents under less time pressure during calls, leading to better first-time resolution and better outcomes overall.
Once a customer has engaged, the most appropriate journey can be offered based on everything that is known about each customer. With modern event-driven systems using real-time data, there is little or no latency. Every action or interaction whether that is a payment, change of address, employment change, bill dispute, an agent decision or disclosure of vulnerable circumstances, is recorded across the entire system as it happens and informs future actions. The collections team will have every pertinent piece of information at its disposal on a single platform, vastly reducing wasted effort and repetition.
Importantly, this level of data capture and insight, combined with an immutable audit trail, can help organisations to ensure that every action and decision taken is transparent, helping to improve accountability and oversight.
In the contact centre, agent activity can be supported by an unprecedented level of visualisation and strategisation advice based on what is known about each individual customer, again in real-time. The scope and depth of information that can be used in decision-making and segmentation from management information, analytics and via machine learning are transformative. When transformation can improve customer experience and result in a lower cost to collect, it’s a proposition that the water industry can ill afford to delay any longer.