The new trend in recovering lost customer payments is toward early intervention via mobile phone. Businesses are utilising SMS and automated voice technologies to communicate with their customers regarding late payments and growing debts. The SMS is seen as a less invasive method of contact, and as customers are, in most cases, always carrying their mobile phones, more likely to reach them. The client is encouraged to respond via text that they have received the message and intend to do something about the matter.
In Europe companies are contacting their customers via SMS between 8pm and 8am, and getting an increased response rate at these hours, rather than the usual 9am to 5pm route. Some eighty percent of the respondents contacted the business or debt collection agency within fifteen minutes. Automated voice contact is being seen as another less embarrassing means of communication with delinquent customers. Market research has indicated that customers prefer an automated machine to another human being in this situation. The technology calls upon the customer to press a certain number to convey that they have received the message.
One of the most important considerations is that these businesses do not want to lose these customers; they just want them to pay their bills or debts. Maintaining good customer relations is now seen as a better end result than getting the money by any means. The days of the confrontational debt collector are fast becoming over and diplomatic debt recovery is a phrase now being used within the industry. Already companies such as ACM Group Debt Collection are moving towards softer approaches to debt collection.
Ethical concerns for the client’s privacy and wellbeing have been highlighted by recent economic depressions in the United States and Europe; where previously exemplary customers fell into arrears due to the economic climate. These ‘fallen angels’, as they were called, were seen as good customers who had fallen on hard times and businesses were loathe to permanently damage relations with them. Customers who have been confronted and hounded by businesses or their debt collecting agencies will, usually, never do business with that company again. Debt collecting is now being viewed as a customer relations business, as much as it is about recovering money. The proliferation of companies that now represent customers to negotiate with businesses over their debts are seen as a costly outcome, which could be avoided by better relations and earlier interventions by the businesses themselves.