We’re on the cusp of a revolution that will see automation truly transform how businesses operate. Debbie Nolan, commercial director at Arvato Financial Solutions, elaborates.
Automated systems are already transforming the way we manufacture and ship goods, and it is revolutionising the transaction landscape in finance, but the potential applications for the technology will increase markedly when integrated with artificial intelligence (AI).
According to Gartner, by 2020 one in five workers worldwide will rely on an automated process to do their job. For the collections industry, these technological advances will offer the opportunity to drive significant new efficiencies and empower employees to build more effective relationships with customers.
Debt recovery is repetitive, process-heavy and involves the collation and management of vast amounts of confidential customer information, usually spread across several different systems. When these processes are performed manually, they are time consuming and can be prone to human error, creating the risk that customer relationships could be damaged. Maintaining positive relationships is an essential part of collections to recoup outstanding revenue without losing customers in the long term - especially in competitive markets, such as energy and telecoms, where it’s becoming increasingly easy for customers to switch providers. A more strategic approach is needed to achieve this, which in turn requires a skilled workforce of agents that have the capacity and information at their disposal to properly consider each customer’s specific circumstances.
This profile makes collections perfectly suited to robotic process automation (RPA), which is already having a measurable impact in industries where high volume, data driven processes are common. The technology works by using computer software to mimic human interaction with IT systems, following rule-based processes that can be closely managed. This creates an agile, virtual workforce that delivers mundane, repetitive tasks with greater speed and accuracy – freeing up collections agents to dedicate more time to resolving complex cases, which could potentially involve vulnerable, or antagonistic customers.
But this is only half the battle. To fully leverage these efficiencies, agents need tools to help them resolve cases effectively in a manner tailored to individual circumstances, safeguarding valuable customer relationships. Automation can help here as well, offering agents a system that provides a live dashboard of customer information and recommended actions in real time. This solution, powered by cognitive technology, has the capability to collate and draw on big data from multiple, disjointed systems and build it into the everyday interactions debt management teams have with customers. This can give agents a comprehensive view of customer’s habits, outstanding debt, previous contact history and details of any extenuating circumstances.
The software can then harness this information to develop tailored strategies for agents to use while they’re speaking to a customer. This can minimise average handling time, increase overall accuracy throughout the process and reduce the number of potentially uncomfortable questions an agent must go through to resolve a case.
The benefits automation can offer the collections industry will only expand as AI becomes more sophisticated. For now, autonomous support systems are powered by machine learning, which is rule-based and requires a significant amount of human supervision. Eventually, automated systems will be able to understand natural language and comprehend and recognise patterns in processes independently. This means the scope and scale of tasks undertaken within the debt recovery process that can be fully automated, in both the front and back office, will increase. More systems will be standardised, digitised and designed with the integration of automation in mind. From a collections perspective, this means more productivity gains and the provision of autonomous virtual assistants that give collections agents even greater support.
Large scale automation is still some way off. But that doesn’t mean the collections industry shouldn’t start preparing now to fully leverage the benefits more advanced automated systems will eventually deliver. Focusing recruitment strategies on digital skills, while looking at how existing roles are likely to be changed by automation is a sensible place to start. Involving employees in the change process from an early stage means collections functions will be well placed to see the productivity and customer relationship benefits the next generation of automation is set to deliver.