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Friday, July 26, 2013

Customer Mobility And Accounts Receivable Management

Servicing customers includes some functions that have always been most difficult for all types of businesses, i.e., managing the timely payments for goods and services. Though most customer services involve satisfying various consumer needs, collecting payments – especially those that are in arrears – must also be done in an effective way that does not violate any of the regulations or state and federal laws that currently exist. With new business communications technologies, there are new benefits that can be gained, if – and when – regulations allow.

There are now new opportunities for supporting ongoing and late payment management through direct, more timely and efficient interactions with customers who increasingly carry smartphone. Most importantly, mobile customer contacts and interactions can be flexibly controlled by the individual customers to suit their personalized needs. However, because there are many different laws and reglations, originally designed to protect legacy cellular users, that make it both difficult and expensive to do the job of performing collections from customers through accounts receivable management or by independent collections companies. (For more information on this issue, read the white paper on “Payment Compliance – Same Rules, Different Game.”)

Payment Management Benefits Through Personalized, Mobile Interactions

The benefits of providing mobile self-service interactions are significant; not only will they reduce the costs of supporting customer needs, but they will also create greater customer cooperation and satisfaction in fulfilling their financial obligations. In addition, self-services will not only generate greater contextual information about a customer’s current status, but will also enable customers to quickly and flexibly access appropriate forms of live assistance to discuss their financial situation constructively.

The basis for any customer business interaction and relationship can now be reinforced through both mobile self-service applications, as well as timely access to live assistance for all of a customer’s business activities. That relationship can now include payment situations where a customer must be notified in a timely and efficient way of any problem that has developed, along with convenient options for quickly resolving those issues.

It is important to differentiate enterprise Accounts Receivable Management (ARM), which should be viewed as a logical extension of customer services for business organizations, from commercial collection activities from organizations that specialize in dealing with debtors, not their own customers. (See latest capabilities for Latitude Software® collections technology.) It is, however, ARM that will provide the most benefit to most business organizations, because it can help retain existing customers, while also facilitating customer payment management activity. It is also here that innovative contact center technology providers, like Interactive Intelligence, are supporting new personalized interactions for mobile customers.  

The bottom line is that more convenient and easy access to up-to-date customer data, coupled with efficient and flexible communications with customers, can improve the nature and costs of collecting on customer accounts that are in arrears.

Automating Payment Management With Mobile Customers

There have always been several basic problems in interacting with customers for business purposes, especially if they are mobile. These include:
·    Automating timely customer contact 
Not knowing where a consumer is at the moment or what real-time communication constraints they have, makes it difficult to notify them of a time-sensitive situation. Calling a voice-only cell phone is very limited for informational access, and is also disruptive, and therefore usually restricted by various regulatory constraints. 

·    Personalizing the contact for the customer’’s current situation

It is important that any outbound notification be accurate about the current status of the customer payment situation. Utilizing a personalized mobile device dramatically increases the chance of a “right party” contact.

·    Simplifying a customer’s response to any important automated notification

A customer response can range from simple acknowledgement to wanting more information to wanting to perform a transaction to wanting to discuss the issue with a live person. Those kinds of choices need to be available to the customer in order to bring faster closure and greater satisfaction in the customer experience.

·    Provide easy and flexible access to appropriate live assistance, as required

At any point in a customer self-service interaction, there must always be the option for live assistance, if needed. Ideally, that will include capturing all contextual information about the customer’s activity up to that point, so that assistance personnel will not have to question the customer unnecessarily.
“Click-for-Assistance” Options in Mobile Self-service Applications

One of the benefits that mobile customers now have with new smartphones is that the users can change communication modalities easily. In particular, switching from online, visual self-services to live assistance can be simple and seamless, since a multi-modal endpoint device can handle all types of voice, video, or text interactions. This makes for a very cost-effective way of interacting with consumers for any business process, including payment management and collections. 

Assistance options include any form of communications, such as:

·        Email

·        Text chat (IM)

·        Voice connection

·        Video connection

·        Voice message

·        Social post

For mobile users who will find it easier to speak than to type text, e.g., while walking or driving a car, the technology for voice-to-text options will allow a message to be created in voice, but delivered to the recipient in text for more efficient retrieval.

One of the biggest frustrations that customers find in dealing with call centers is that they have to wait in queue for the right person to talk to. This situation can be averted easily by providing a callback or “virtual queue” option, whereby mobile customers can be called back ASAP or at a preferred time. Having a mobile smartphone increases the user’s accessibility significantly, and makes access to live assistance more flexible, efficient and convenient. 

Security and Compliance Issues

Customer access to secure web portals, where identity authentication is required, ensures that any online self-service access to information or transaction will be secure. This will require the user to have appropriate “mobile app” links for such services in general, but will also be most useful in payment services.

An alternative security measure may be to switch from online access via a web portal, to a “click-for-assistance” voice connection with a live agent for making secure payment. That capability will be facilitated with new WebRTC capabilities in browsers.

Contact Center Payment Management Assistance

All self-service applications will need simple and direct access to knowledgeable agents who can offer assistance with the payment function or can negotiate a payment schedule. Mobile smartphones can support such capabilities more easily because they are multi-modal. With the new prospect of WebRTC technology that enables simpler voice and video connections through Web-based applications, the opportunities to provide such “click-for-assistance” options to smartphone users of “mobile apps” will increase significantly. What will also be needed, however, is integration of such connections with contact center inbound and outbound contact management routing.

Of particular importance for any business or service organization, however, is the ability to enable authorized and personalized automated outbound notifications from a business process application to specific customer recipients. Under the label of “Communications Enabled Business Processing” (CEBP), such capabilities are only now becoming practical because of increased flexible accessibility to recipients through their mobile smartphones. This will not only be more efficient and effective for making timely contact with customers, but will also significantly reduce traditional notification costs through mail or live outbound call attempts.

While mobile notifications can most effectively utilize various modes of asynchronous messaging (email, SMS texting), they can also exploit UC-enabled real-time connections, when authorized, including text chat and voice/video connections. 

Any responses to outbound notifications that need to go to live assistance can also be directed to the same type of integrated live assistance access used for self-service applications discussed above. There may also be different “contextual” routing and priority queuing controls, since the contact was initiated by an automated business process, not the customer.

It will also be important to move any new contact center functionality for mobile customers to a cloud-based platform, rather than to a legacy, premise-based system. This trend is already rapidly being adopted for traditional contact center functions in order to facilitate rapid, cost-efficient implementations, third-party management and support, and, most importantly, implementation and integration of new mobile customer service apps.


While existing laws and regulations governing collections are very stringent and tightly constrain accessing consumers via their mobile devices, the rapid and broad-based adoption of these devices will eventually force those regulations to change.  Your contact center must, therefore, start supporting mobile, multi-modal customers differently and more flexibly. The increased use of automated, self-services, and controls for mobile customers provides the required functionality for interacting more efficiently with customers, while minimizing any activity that would be viewed as harassment. On the other hand, such automated facilities significantly reduce operational costs while expanding productivity and customer satisfaction.

For debt collection organizations, new contact center technologies are also available, although their relationship with debtors are not tradtional “customer” relationships. See more information about what Interactive Intelligence’s Latitude Debt Collection software offers.

Because vast adoption of mobile communications technologies is inevitable, now is the time to start changing the old telephony ground rules that were initially designed to protect consumers from telemarketers. It’s time to start envisioning the benefits to both the customer and the product/service provider when customers and business organizations are both more accessible via mobile contacts.  For this reason, business management in the ARM industry should continue supporting and educating lobbyists on the long list of reasons to remove unnecessary obstacles for supporting mobile customer services.

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