Maybe you’ve engaged with a new OCA or vendor that boasts a strong digital presence. You’ve seen their sales pitch and demos, and you think they might be a good fit. Now, you need to know if their digital strategy actually gets the job done. What are the high level, but maybe not obvious, questions you need to ask before you determine if the relationship will be a good fit? Here are the first three questions you should ask:
1. Do you have the data and the infrastructure to get it done?
Don't overlook the importance of data science. Both you AND your potential partner need to have the data and infrastructure in place to make this arrangement work. As Mike Cassidy, Partner with M&G Solutions, notes: “everything really starts and ends with data.” Creditors should consider if they can provide enough data to their digital partners so they can optimize their strategy, he adds. Digital strategies are built on data. Can you send to your agency more than just the typical demographic information? Are you passing consent, preference, balance breakdowns, and dates of service? All of these data points, and more, will be key to your partner building a successful digital strategy.
Also, don’t assume that an agency reporting to have a strong digital strategy has an advanced data infrastructure. If you’ve answered “yes” to the above, then the next question is: can your partner also capture data and send it back to you? This is especially important in the pre-charge-off world, Cassidy says. As an account ages, it will be key to continue capturing data (especially in light of Regulation F). You should expect your partner to send you opt outs, opt ins, consent, preference, and more. So, make sure they are able.
The bottom line: both you and your prospective partner need to be prepared to give and receive data. If your systems aren’t copasetic, it might be time to move on.
2. How do you handle downtime?
A salesperson’s response to questions about downtime might be: “What’s downtime?,” but no matter what anyone tells you, there will always be downtime for any online service, and it is expensive (not to mention, a probable cause of consumer dissatisfaction, and then ultimately, complaints). What is the average downtime for each of the tools they use? And, maybe more importantly, what is the average time it takes to recover once they are aware of an unexpected outage? What kind of notification system do they have in place? How do they track downtime and what is their policy around alerting you? Make sure to ask for policies and data around downtime for all of their online services.
3. What do you consider a successful use of digital strategy?
Jake Cahan, CEO of Debtsy, suggests that you ask the agency about how they use that digital strategy. "If they are mostly driving inbound calls through digital outreach or does the consumer have robust self-service and non-telephony options to resolve their account? Are they looking at the holistic experience of the consumer?"
He also suggests that you ask: how many accounts are resolved through those channels? You may not think this is important to your bottom line (I.E. - who cares as long as the money is collected), but you should know if their idea of success matches your own, he adds. It’s possible that what you consider successful is an underestimation of their capability. It’s also possible that their idea of success doesn’t account for an omnichannel experience, but rather relies on traditional KPIs. This might not be a deal-breaker (at the end of the day, a dollar is a dollar), but it’s important to maintain relationships with consumers in situations where they are used to handling their account through digital means. If they’ve been receiving texts from you with their account balance and payment reminders, and if they’ve been able to view all of their account information and make payments online with you, they will continue to expect that, even later in the account lifecycle.
Of course, there are so many other questions you should be asking a digital first agency, but these three will give you a good starting point for some of the other, more granular questions.
Jake Cahan and Mike Cassidy discussed digital strategy and partnering with digital-first agencies as part of the iA Strategy & Tech workshop “Is Your Digital Strategy Truly Successful?”
Erin Kerr is the Director of Content at insideARM and the chair of iA Strategy & Tech - a digital resource 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.