What's the problem with digital debt collection technology? | Flexys

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What’s the problem with digital debt collection technology?

by Jon Hickman

The proliferation of digital self-service debt management solutions has to be a good thing, right? Well, that depends……Our CEO, Jon Hickman, explains the guiding principles behind the Flexys suite of solutions– Collaborate, Collect and Contain.

I recently watched a collections-focused webinar where digital technology had something of a rough ride. There was a feeling of disappointment about it’s perceived limitations. It reminded me of some key principles that govern how successful and useful technology is. In an area of business as sensitive as debt management, these principles are even more critical and they relate not only to customer-facing technology like digital self-service but to all of the systems used to manage customer debt.

So what IS the problem with digital technology?

There has been a rush of digital collections applications developed in the last few years. Some of those systems are now having their inadequacies exposed and here’s why: the motivation behind their development was dictated by technology-dominant thinking. Everything is going digital, we must too. 

In contrast, the most productive advances in collections systems are driven by design-dominant thinking. Technology doesn’t result in better customer experience on its own, it needs to be designed to do so. The motivation shouldn’t be to simply digitise existing processes but to start right at the beginning and design the best way to deliver services using the advances afforded to us by cutting edge technology. The goal has to be to add value– do it better, make it easier, reduce friction, join up services, increase engagement. On the agent-driven side of collections, this means improving employee experience, making the job less stressful by providing intuitive systems that support well-informed decision-making.

What do we mean by design?

Design doesn’t just mean slick visuals, it means designing the behind-the-scenes processes that make the system work for the customer, for the agent and for the business. To make every action relevant, timely, informed and of value.  

This brings me to the first principle, that we shouldn’t only ‘do things better’ but aim to ‘do better things’. Keeping people at the forefront of every technological advancement, making technology more humane, remembering that every user is a human being, be it a customer or an agent.

I don’t believe you will ever get groundbreaking results by digitising offline and paper-based processes without first designing better ways of doing things. This only results in a thick layer of plaster that covers the cracks of legacy systems and some of the more superficial digital offerings. This too often takes the place of a genuine improvement of experience. 

Which brings me onto the second guiding principle, one that influenced Flexys from the very outset: technology should be so well designed that it becomes invisible.  Technology is only there to help your organisation and its customers to do something better, faster and easier. If the technologists designing the systems don’t really understand collections, they won’t have enough reference points to be properly informed about how best the processes should work. Then they are more likely to fall back on old analogue ways and try to digitise those. 

The result is you get a ‘new’ system but your employees continually have to ‘deal with’ the system itself. This could be because it isn’t easy to operate or understand; it isn’t easy to configure in-house; it isn’t intuitive so information doesn’t appear at the right time. It may be little more than a few webpages, a digital facade rather than a smart, rules-based system. It may lack functionality and need to be supplemented by old fashioned methods like spreadsheets and post-it notes. 

On the customer-facing side of things, poorly designed systems are frustrating and time-consuming, and when people feel they aren’t getting where they need to be, they revert back to less cost-effective means of communication like calls and letters. This is clearly counterproductive. 

The problem with some digital technology is that it doesn’t make things better, it only changes the nature of the action. Technology has so much more to offer when it isn’t designed to be an end unto itself.  

“The idea for Flexys took root after building solutions using products and services available in the market. It made me realise how much opportunity there was to better the status quo, not just by building modern technology into products but by delivering solutions that apply an operational understanding of collections and backing them up with excellent service.”
Brian Smith, CTO, Flexys Solutions, December 2016