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Customer experience and debt. Unhappy bed fellows unless you take an empathetic view

1 August 2022

On the 29th June, in partnership with CCR magazine, LINK hosted a debate on the importance of customer experience. We were joined by senior leaders including CEOs, contact centre directors, collections, credit and risk managers and transformation specialists, as well as those responsible for regulation in financial services. They spanned all industries from finance, utilities, mobile and debt collection, through to technology providers specialising in customer engagement.

It’s fair to say there’s a general mood across all industries that reflects the global turmoil of war, supply chain pressures and inflated energy prices. In the UK, the cost-of-living crisis is in sharp focus, and this set the tone for the debate – how were organisations going to respond to rising costs, manage compliance and provide support for vulnerable households?

It was a challenging debate, and while the official write up from CCR will be published later in the summer, here’s a sneak peak of the top talking points:

  • The pandemic taught every industry about resilience. The spring of 2020 turned the industry upside down and many of the panel described having to re-write business processes and structures almost overnight as they battled to stay open, provide staff with the ability to work from home or furlough, all while trying to reassure customers that they were going to be supported. It was a very different kind of shock to that of the crash in 2008 and called for a different kind of resilience.
  • Debtors are still customers. There was a shift in attitude towards debtors, brought about by a more empathetic appreciation of what people were facing – after all how many times did we recognise that we’re were all in it together? Traditional collections organisations nomenclature of “debtors” has been replaced by the word “customers”. It is a massive mindset change in the industry which many agreed will stand them in good stead for the predicted fall out of the cost-of-living crisis later this year.
  • Good ‘payers’ are in shock. Customers who have always paid on time are, for the first time ever in their lives, struggling as fuel costs, inflation and food prices hit wage packets hard. Unlike “repeat customers” who understand how to navigate the system of debt collection and ask for help, this new generation need more support through the various steps of collection. However, it was acknowledged that this time around the format of help has changed, and apprehensive customers are often surprised by the level of support that is available from the industry.
  • What’s the right mix? The feisty part of the debate! What channels should you use and how should you segment the recipients? The more digital focused attendees believed that a “digital first” solution could exclude some demographics, while some emphasised that human based contact could never be replaced.

But the comment from one Chief Executive helped focus the mind, “I do not believe this is binary, it’s all channels”. It’s true, great customer experience comes from a channel mix that satisfies the adage ‘right channel, right time’.

Where does this debate leave us?

My view, and a view shared by others I have since spoken to, is that it could be dangerous to think we understand the possible wave of demand the next 6-12 months will provoke. Experiences like the credit crunch or the even the pandemic won’t really reflect the scale of the crisis we are about to endure.

The combination of factors for the UK and globally are unprecedented; we have the war in the Ukraine, which continues to apply pressure to fuel costs which in turn is driving inflation across the whole economy and the UK is still understanding the impacts of Brexit and battling the impact of the pandemic. It’s hard to predict just how much help people will need, but my sense is it will be extraordinary.

Don’t’ forget this time around we also have the new niche credit providers offering Buy Now Pay Later or (‘BNPL’) providers including new entrant Apple, to factor in. They have added a new extra pressure on personal finances. I think the bubble is going to pop soon and when it does it will create a big mess for the industries that have adopted the platforms as part of their check out process.

Organisations will have to carefully manage their strategy for debt recovery, and integral to that will be communication and its tone.

Where LINK sees real innovation and success relates to those organisations that are willing to continuously challenge their status quo by providing choice in how and when they do something. The companies doing it well will also understand the value of empathy and add that context to the experience and journey they map out.

The concepts of “ethical customer experience” or “situational CX” ring loud here.

Designing your customer journey and experience around the context of your customer interaction is vital. The journey and experience to get an update on an outstanding balance should look and feel very different to someone seeking financial support. This human element of customer experience design should inform what channels to offer and how quickly you might connect a customer with a highly qualified human to deal with a complex interaction.

It might even be appropriate to have a self-serve model using automated technology, with a hand off to a person when the interaction becomes more complex. This can help manage demand and ensure the people who really need the help get it.

The debate brought to light new complexities and dynamics, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all doom and gloom. However, I was reassured by the people in the room that while times will be tough, they are preparing. The shock is being managed by the more forward-thinking brands. They will help people and plan to make the task of debt collection as painless as they can for all parties by combining skilled people with great technology. It won’t be easy, they know that, but better to have a plan than not at all.

If you’d like to know more about how you can put in place technology that can deliver empathetic communication strategies, then give me a buzz. You might also like to read this blog on the topic – it will help you understand the art of the possible.

Want more content?

Our blog highlighted on the CCR magazine on what the financial services & public sector could be facing – ‘A ticking time bomb’ – CCR (

How secure on-boarding can be the happy medium between great CX and reducing fraud How can retailers fight fraud and protect the customer experience as new FCA measures come into force? – LINK Mobility UK

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