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Friday, October 23, 2009

Copyright © 2009 The Unified-View, All Rights Reserved Worldwide
October 23, 2009

“Customer UC” For Improving Collections ROI

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

As knowledgeable technology experts now agree, unified communications (UC) is a concept for integrating the use of various forms of communication technologies to make more flexible and efficient contact with people; such contacts can be initiated either by other people, or, even more importantly for business processes, by automating process workflows.

The “ROI” of UC technologies is expected to come from both reduced costs and more efficient and productive business processes that involve timely contact with people. The latter objective will also include reducing labor costs by exploiting automated notifications and self-service applications. More importantly, any customer-facing business process activity that can impact revenue generation will be of particular interest to business management, making contact center applications high-priority targets for UC implementation planning.

We are starting to see some contact center applications being integrated with UC capabilities to help provide the ROI that enterprises require. For example, Aspect, which has its roots in the contact center market, announced its unified communications solution, “Streamlined Collections.” By applying its long experience with traditional, telephony-based outbound customer contact and self-service applications to the increased need to make debt collection both more productive and cost efficient, Aspect is targeting a common high-value business process that suffers from the limitations of traditional, person-to-person telephone contacts.

The nature of outbound contacts for debt collection lends itself ideally to the flexible capabilities of UC, as well as the opportunity to exploit automated self-services applications, efficiently coupled with selective, on-demand live assistance when needed. This customer-facing outbound UC application fits in very well with other “Customer UC” applications, which I define as all forms of business communication services that directly involve interactions with “customers,” whether as contact initiators or recipients/respondents.

Moving Debt Collection From The Past To The Future

Debt collection letters have always been slow, with no guarantee of delivery or a convenient means of quick response. Collection phone call attempts are even more expensive, especially if you don’t know when and where to make direct contact with a particular person, and/ or debtors are avoiding such contact. The limitation of a traditional phone call to handle a data exchange has also been a major shortcoming for efficiently negotiating a collections interaction with a customer.

However, the consumer communications world has been dramatically changing in terms of personalized communications through individual email mailboxes, personalized mobile “smart-phones,” instant messaging (IM) contacts, Short Message Services (SMS) for mobile devices, social networking contacts, etc. It is really time to exploit the new web-based contact environment, not just the old telephone network, since the limitations of the Telephone User Interface (TUI) also restrict the flexibility of automated self-service applications, requiring greater use of live assistance than online Web applications. So, UC, coupled with mobile, multi-modal “smart-phones,” can expand the benefits of outbound self-service applications and reduce the need for live assistance to provide additional information.

A typical collections scenario would involve a customer contacting a customer service department for an unrelated reason and a business process application detecting the fact that a payment is overdue and automatically generate a personalized (text) “notification” message to the debtor (via email, SMS). A mobile recipient with UC capabilities will have the option to hear the message as well read it. Then, depending on the recipient’s particular situation, various response options can be offered, ranging from simple confirmation of receipt to a choice of payment methods. If there are questions or problems that require additional assistance, the response can escalate to an exchange of emails, a real-time “chat,” or a live call connection to an available and qualified collections agent.

Aspect’s Streamlined Collections integration with UC capabilities exploits “Communications Enabled Business Processes" or “CEBP”, where an automated business process can initiate an outbound communication contact to an individual person, based on personalized criteria. Customer debt collection is an ideal application for CEBP, enabling the choice of outbound contact, self-service application, and access to live assistance to be automatically optimized selectively on an individual customer basis.

“First Contact Resolution” Metrics For Outbound Customer Contact
Personalization of outbound contacts for customer collections will be very critical, because it will require differentiating the modality requirements of contact – proactive notifications coupled with self-service or live assistance options, as well as privacy concerns for the individual customer. Aspect has categorized its collection activities across different “phases” of the process, i.e.:

· “Early stage” 30- day
· “Mid-stage” 60-90-day
· “Late stage 90-day +

Each phase can have its own “message” to deliver, along with different choices for delivery and distinct self-service application options and live assistance requirements. Leveraging consumer’s increased use of ‘smart-phones” will enable faster contact accessibility, as well as customer response flexibility for both online or voice response self-service options. This will also minimize the need for live agent involvement unless requested by the customer. The self-service approach also facilitates identifying the level of live assistance required, which may or may not be immediately available and can be deferred.

Just as IVR applications have traditionally been used to screen incoming calls and determine intelligent routing to qualified call center agents, outbound contacts that connect recipients to either an online or an IVR self-service application can perform the same role for customer access to live assistance via a presence-based call connection or chat session.

Benefits for Everyone

Although important, it is simply not enough to claim that UC technologies will reduce enterprise operational costs in various ways. Unless it pays off in making a specific business process more efficient and productive for all users involved, the overall business process results will not be optimized. In the case of the Aspect Streamlined Collections contact center application. UC-based technologies exploit mobile consumer communications, email, and self-service technologies to maximize the following benefits:

For the enterprise:
· Efficient customization of interactions for different customer circumstances
· Faster revenue generation
· Minimized operational costs, especially need for staffing support
· Lower infrastructure technology costs
· Maximizing customer retention, customer experience satisfaction

For the customer:
· Greater contextual personalization of collection contacts
· Maintaining customer privacy for such interactions
· Opportunity to avoid or minimize financial penalties
· More response flexibility and information access, especially for mobile customers
· Greater flexibility for access to live assistance on demand

UC-based business process applications can be selectively implemented to improve a particular business process that will involve a specific group of end users, both inside and outside of an organization. They can integrate existing communication technologies with new capabilities to produce the benefits of cost savings, but more importantly, business process efficiencies and productivity. Aspect’s Streamlined Collections Solution is a practical example of the benefits of Customer UC in the rapidly changing world of consumer communications.

The consumer transition to universal online Internet access, UC, and multimodal “smartphones” won’t take place overnight, so there will be a requirement for enterprise organizations to continue to support traditional customer telephone contacts in addition to new UC contacts, with live assistance. For this reason, the Streamlined Collections unified communication applications for the contact center from Aspect integrates its outbound contact planning and workforce management functions to optimize “agent” and “expert” resources across all forms of customer interactions.

In addition, Aspect has its collections business process optimization solution packaged as “Optimized Collections,” which focuses on enhancing calling strategies and helps apply the right resources at the right times to improve collector productivity.

What Do You Think?
You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.