For many people, the moment of truth with an organisation is when things go wrong - for example, when they fall behind on loan repayments.

The way that they’re treated when they’re vulnerable says a lot about an organisation and how valued they are as customers, and they’ll remember it long after the crisis has passed.

By its very nature, the collections journey can be stressful and unpleasant, especially for customers who are vulnerable or who have fallen into debt for the first time. But you can keep your customers loyal to you by collecting outstanding payments in a way that’s fair and meets their needs.

At the same time, you’ll increase your collections rates, reduce your costs and improve your employees’ experience too. You’ll also be complying with guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which asks firms to recognise the difficulties that people are facing and to create flexible, personalised support that takes their individual circumstances into account.

So, what can you do practically to improve their debt collection experience? An important step is to use the data that you have about them to understand their risk profile, propensity to pay and sensitivities – this allows you to make better decisions about how to treat them fairly and to ensure the best possible outcome for them and for you. You can also prevent them from getting into debt in the first place by spotting the signs that they may be about to fall behind on payments and engaging with them early to protect your relationship with them, keep communication open and prevent them defaulting.

By using data to segment your customers in this way, you can also make the best use of your resources. For low-risk reminders, or when people are reluctant to talk to a call centre agent about their situation, you can use automation such as chat bots, freeing up your skilled collections agents to have complex conversations with customers who need more support. Similarly, your collections team can engage with customers at the best time and over the right channel, based on their profile. And offering full multi-channel digital self-service, including payments, gives your customers more choice, makes it easier for them to connect with you and improves outcomes.

You can also use data and technology to make your people more effective by creating a rich picture of your customers. Your collections agents can use technology including a single unified desktop showing all the relevant information about a customer; real time speech analytics to identify vulnerable customers and manage the quality of outcomes; and affordability assessments to help them to create flexible repayment plans. You can also use the data and technology to ensure compliance with FCA guidelines and that you are treating customers fairly.

However, providing data and technology isn’t enough on its own. Debt collection is a difficult environment for customers and collections agents alike, so it’s vital that you train your people to provide the right support to vulnerable customers and that you support them as they’re doing so, to protect their wellbeing.

Collections agents can be faced with difficult interactions, for example with a customer having suicidal thoughts, and may be working alone at home without colleagues’ support. They need the training, support and tools to help the customer and ensure their own wellbeing. When you get this right, you reduce absenteeism and attrition, and improve both your reputation as an employer and your team’s performance.

When you use data, technology and skilled people to improve your customers’ experience of debt collection and treat them fairly, you can build loyalty and reduce costs.

To find out how Capita can help you to use data and insights to give your customers a fairer, more personal collections experience, speak to one of our experts.

Thinking about your organisation?