Using behavioural science to encourage payments
Modern technology provides insight, but does this improve performance?
People are the most crucial part of our business, but technology helps us do our job as effectively as we can. As technology evolves, so do we, both as humans and as employees. When harmonious, personal development and technological advancement can improve overall performance in both anticipated and unexpected ways. The coronavirus pandemic has placed increased importance on technological capabilities, as well as justifying the preparedness and investment that many businesses had previously made in this area.
At Bristow & Sutor, all of our Enforcement Agents are directly employed and are based at strategic locations around the country. This approach means we can provide total control and coverage for every case, but does require sophisticated software so that agents can get on with the job rather than being bogged down with admin and potential report duplication.
Having an in-house software development team provides a constant stream of enhancements that ensures efficiency is maximised both for a company and for the clients we serve. We have found investing in new IT to be a game-changing experience that has fine-tuned the way we work and helped us create, develop, and maintain our portals, apps, and debt recovery tools. We have a 360-degree view enabling an agent’s smartphone app, our Client Portal, our award-winning Debtor Portal and our back-office system, ECS, to immediately see the latest information on any case. This ownership leads to unrestricted and faster development by people who have first-hand knowledge of business processes, needs, and drivers. During the COVID-19 lockdown, this prior investment in technology allowed us to set up a new contact centre and quickly ensure staff could operate from home, with minimum disruption to customer service.
Responsible employers should provide their directly employed staff with a full inventory of equipment to assist in their duties, such as smartphones and body-worn camera equipment. By keeping in constant contact with employees, we guarantee accountability, we can recommend suitable training requirements, and we can update clients on the progress of their cases. Providing smartphones to staff also gives debtors an easy, secure way of making online payments from desktop and mobile devices. But there are wider environmental benefits too, with solutions providing the most efficient routes from a complete list of live cases, optimised to improve productivity and reduce carbon footprints. We have already invested in PPE equipment and will be training staff on how to use this before any visits take place again.
As part of its commitment to innovation, Bristow & Sutor working with Warwick Business School, has sponsored Master’s and Doctoral research, including my own. This investment in people can and will lead to the development of technological innovation in the business itself. A new behavioural science initiative is currently being undertaken in association with Sprint Valley and Ivo Vlav, Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Warwick. Ivo is the co-author of the MINDSPACE report for the UK Cabinet Office (which provides a framework for using behaviour science in policy decisions); his work on ‘nudge theory’ to boost tax payments (for HMRC) was cited in the accompanying document to the Nobel prize committee’s awarding of the prize for economic science to Richard Thaler in 2017.
Behavioural Science is not a new concept, but its implementation in debt recovery could change the expectations and outcomes of the entire industry. By using data and omnichannel capabilities we can test a massive variety of techniques and using our data science tools we can investigate the motivations of debtors, we will all be able to consider the most effective methods for future engagement. People can be irrational, but often predictably irrational, so behaviours might be open to change if intervention steps are considered at an early stage.
We currently split cases into two groups: Control and Intervention. The Control group receives our standard letters of communication to ensure any uplift can be attributed to these activities and not another underlying change. The Intervention group receive amended versions based on the MINDSPACE framework. We experiment with creative, tone, and channel and even with different envelopes to see if this has an impact on opening rates and we analyse what combinations of ‘nudges’ work best, with results reviewed monthly. We have not paused this process through the coronavirus pandemic as the results provided at this time continue to give us the kind of valuable insight that will help shape our communications (even during unique times) for years to come.
My long-term prediction, based on our experience in the industry, is that continuous testing is needed to achieve success by providing a tailored approach to an ever-changing community. I envision a future where collection and enforcement companies will, as standard, provide alternatively worded communications, for example to someone receiving their first-ever PCN, compared to how they communicate with repeat offenders. I expect the same principles to be applied across letters, scripts, SMS messages, phone messages, WhatsApp, emails, and more. The possibilities are almost limitless.
The results we have seen so far are already helping us to build customer profiles that will promote future positive engagement at a granular level. As time goes on and more data is captured, we might not receive the findings we expect. Still, I am confident that if collection and enforcement companies constantly push the boundaries and adapt to the latest technology, we will all see further improvements in successful collection statistics.