The CFPB’s Final Rule on Debt Collection (Regulation F) requires us in accounts receivable to focus on the consumer communication preference. So, how can you ensure you are getting the information you need from consumers? And what counts as good information anyway? Read on for a few simple steps you can take right away to optimize your consumer communication preference collection practices. Find out how you can improve your consumer communication, avoid bad outcomes, and get more - and more useful - consumer preference data.
1. Don't invite revocation
Soliciting the consumer’s preference via a telephone call, inbound or outbound, seems straightforward, but be careful. Some questions or scripts can lead directly to revocation. Consider the language you use in order to avoid unnecessary revocation of a specific channel or even communication in general, suggests Le’Nore Caldwell, Manager of Audit at Spring Oaks Capital. What does this mean? Take, for example, a question like this: "How would you like for us to communicate with you?" This question can easily lead to responses like, "not at all," or "I would not like to communicate with you." These are revocations and you don't want your questions to prompt them.
Pro-tip: avoid open-ended questions entirely. Instead, ask consumers to choose from a suite of options and ask for specifics. For example, you could say, “We are able to text, call, or email you to communicate about this matter; which option would you prefer?”
2. Timing and context matter
Think about when it might make the most sense during the call to solicit this information, says Rich Stoltenborg, Compliance Manager at Resident Interface. He recommends asking about preference as to your existing script you use to gather the consumer’s full and complete information. Regulation F does not require a preference update, but since the consumer is already updating demographic information, such as phone number or address, it makes perfect sense - to the consumer and for your processes - to broach preference then, too. Asking the consumer for communication preferences at this point also allows the collector to gather or verify the consumer’s email address or other contact information.
3. Let consumers know what preference really means
Expressing a preference does not bar companies from using other methods to communicate. So, let consumers know how you will use the information they are providing. Regulation F allows for communication via mail in nearly every circumstance, except if the consumer retains an attorney, or advises the collector that they do not want any communication about the debt. Telephone calls are similar, though insideARM recommends that collectors cease phone calls if the consumer has provided their preference and the preference does not include phone calls. Consider saying something like, “Thank you for providing your communication preference. When possible, we will use this method to communicate with you, however, there may be circumstances where we must reach out to you in other ways.”
4. Don't forget digital channels
Online portals are also a great opportunity to solicit preference from consumers. Consumers can be directed to online portals via email, SMS, agents, or mail, and the preference update can be integrated into existing processes, like payments or authentication. Presenting preference options online can be as simple as providing check-boxes next to available channels for the consumer to select.
5. Ask them about all the channels
Understanding the consumer’s preference is not only important in relation to Regulation F, but it has an impact on strategy, as well. Your current consumer communication channel mix will evolve over time and you will want to know how your consumers feel about channels you do not currently offer.
Pro tip: collect consumer preference for channels you currently offer AND for channels you might offer in the future. You'll want to know if they have a preference for a channel you might eventually add to your channel strategy. Gathering this data around preference will be crucial for driving technology decisions in the future, so collect whatever information consumers will share. Listing options like WhatsApp and other messaging services on portals can help you stay informed about the trends in consumer communication, too.
For more on how Regulation F defines express consent and what you can or cannot do with regards to consumer communication, see "CFPB Debt Collection Rule Alert: 11 Whopping Misstatements You Need to Know About."
Erin Kerr is the Director of Content at insideARM and the chair of iA Strategy & Tech - a conference for collections strategy executives. She is a seasoned receivables management professional, with recent experience in digital strategy and a passion for crafting digital solutions for a better customer experience