Email can and should be a key piece of your customer communication and recovery / digital debt collection strategy. It can actually be one of the best channels for debt collection. Many consumers prefer to communicate via email. Plus, a strong email process can drive significant revenue and cut costs. In short, it's a very good idea to use email as a key part of your digital debt collections strategy.
But, this will only work if you do it right.
In this article, you'll learn about digital recovery / debt collection email best practices and the key elements of an effective debt collection email strategy, including email data hygiene, testing for optimization, better email design for better outcomes, and managing consent.
Companies that take these elements seriously - and build their email processes around them - can transform their email channel into a cost-effective revenue driving machine. Those who don't might be sending lots of emails … but will also be wasting a lot of time and money.
Want to find out how to make email into key digital collections channel?
Let's start at the beginning.
What are collections emails? Collections emails are used to promote and support customer engagement. The most desirable of which is self-servicing through an online customer portal and\or IVR.
You may not think of them this way, but these emails are really marketing emails. They are typically sent in batches as part of one or more campaigns, though they can also be sent as one-off messages, triggered by some kind of customer engagement. Whether they are sent as a batch or one off, the ultimate goal of a collections email is to solicit the customer into taking the “next step” with respect to resolving their account, like viewing their payment options or setting up a payment plan.
Good email design and an effective email process can make this channel into a major contributor to your collections efforts, by:
- Reducing your Cost to Collect.
Email outreach offers a compliant, low-cost alternative to traditional collections calls and letters, but could also be used to supplement your current outreach efforts. At a fraction of a penny per attempt, email is a cost-effective way to attempt multiple RPCs per week. And with the increase in postage and cost to mail, using email in lieu of physical letters can lead to a huge cost savings.
- Increasing your Right Party Contacts.
An effective email process can create hundreds, if not thousands, of RPCs in a day because email allows organizations to cast a wider net than simply calling or sending letters. While most consumers have a single physical mailing address and phone number, they may have multiple email addresses that companies can attempt to reach through (again, at a fraction of the cost of a phone call or physical letter).
- Improving your Bottom-line Liquidation.
Using emails as an attempt to collect is primarily used to drive self-service. Today’s customers, many of whom prefer to do business digitally, are likely to receive an email and either make a payment or otherwise engage through a self-service portal, rather than calling to speak with an agent. Email also allows for a much more personalized experience. Using the unparalleled amount of data in collections, email content can be totally customized based on customer engagement, account balance, age, and more.
But, merely having the ability to send and receive emails will not automatically reduce cost to collect, increase RPCs, or improve your bottom line liquidation.
So, where should your organization focus in order to build an effective email process?
Consent has been a buzzword with renewed energy in the collections space since the roll out of Regulation F. But getting consent to email consumers is important to the overall effectiveness of your email process. Why? Because it lays the groundwork for creating positive email engagement with your customers. You need this to establish a good email sender reputation.
Make sure to capture consent to email consumers at every point of contact possible, including adding it into your agent’s call scripts and soliciting consent on your customer website and portal.
When email first became a viable option in the collections space, many viewed it as a substitute for physical collections letters. Email can serve as a direct substitute when it comes to administrative notices (more on that later), but simply using a PDF or HTML version of your existing collections letters will not work, for multiple reasons:
- You'll get flagged as SPAM and your emails will not get delivered.
Continuously repeating the same content in a batch-style marketing email is an invitation to get flagged by mailbox providers (e.g. Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc…) as poor sender and could be a disaster for your ability to reach the customers inbox.
- Form letter-style emails will not perform nearly as well as emails optimized to drive specific outcomes.
Email represents a huge opportunity for sending customers personalized and targeted messages. Replicating your letter process to your email process means missing out on creating a personalized experience for customers - and this experience is what ultimately drives them towards the eventual step of making a payment.
Creating new and engaging email content for collections will be a real shift in approach for many companies. Yes, traditional compliance and operational perspectives still matter. But companies in collections have to start thinking about and designing emails from a marketing perspective, too.
Experimentation and Testing
To determine what works best at getting your customers to engage and self-serve (which will often be a moving target) you’ve got to experiment with different aspects of your email program.
Test different types of email content, like subject lines, pre-headers, content tone and call to action. You can also experiment with sending at different times of day or the number of emails you're sending to customers per week based on their level of engagement.
Good Data Practices
Effectively reaching customers through email is directly dependent on the quality of the email addresses you have for them. Working with a vendor to validate your available email addresses both before the initial attempt to email them and on a recurring schedule thereafter for those email addresses that never engage is an absolute must. Failing to make this part of your ongoing email program can have the following negative impacts:
- Mailbox providers penalize senders who consistently attempt to send emails to erroneous or closed email accounts
- SPAM traps, false email addresses created by mailbox providers, can unknowingly slip into your address list. Even a single email being sent to one of these addresses can tank your sender reputation
- Delayed re-assignment of accounts having bad email addresses to an alternative collections process.
Customer email addresses are obtained in multiple ways. The closer you are to receiving the email address directly from the consumer, the better. Many originators capture that information at the inception of loans or credit applications. For agencies and debt buyers, it’s crucial to work on increasing the number of ways to obtain this contact information from their creditor clients and from the customer. Similar to collecting consent, add the request for an email address to your agent’s call scripts and your customer website and portal.
Another important aspect of your email marketing program is to institute an email address sunsetting policy. What this means:if a contact has long ago stopped or never did engage with your emails (i.e., opened them or clicked through them), consider periodically removing them from your email contact lists. This practice will keep your email contacts fresh. It will also decrease the likelihood that you'll hurt your sender reputation by repeatedly emailing customers who don’t wish to engage through email.
Analysis and Reporting
Real time (or as close as possible) reporting allows for better analysis and for an improved understanding of customer conversion and engagement.
At a minimum, you should be monitoring deliveries, bounces, spam complaints, opens, clicks and above all else, attributable payers to get an initial picture of the effectiveness of your email program.
It’s crucial to build a baseline for these measures, which will vary, depending on the age of an account, the entity sending the email (e.g. a debt buyer vs. the originator vs. a third party agency) and your email sender reputation at each of the different mailbox providers.
Understanding Sender Reputation
Your sender reputation score is associated with each unique IP address and domain combination that your organization uses to send emails. Each mailbox provider calculates and maintains their own score based on their own unique criteria. They will view your email sending practices through their own unique lens. There are several components that nearly all scores weigh in their calculations. Those components include:
- Positive engagement events – Opens, clicks, forwards, responses
- Negative engagement events – SPAM complaints, unsubscribes, deletions
- Consistency – minimize spikes, in either direction, with respect to daily sending volume
- Email infrastructure alignment – correct configuration of the technical components associated with sending email. Note: it’s vital to consult an expert to ensure this is done correctly, you do not want to take an experimental approach to accomplishing this
It’s important to note that each mailbox provider applies different weights to the above components. Gaining an understanding of how to optimize for each of these differing perspectives is what will lead to program wide success.
And remember, it needs to make money
This is perhaps the most important and most obvious detail, but it can be hard to gauge whether your email program costs more than its bringing in. Remember, it’s not just the cost of the platform, but of the time your staff puts into creating and maintaining the email program in addition to the cost of the engagement with vendors.
A simple way to make that determination is tracking revenue generated directly from email campaigns. You can do that by adding specific phone numbers and embedded hyperlinks to email content in order to track the inbound calls and self-service visits that result from the receipt of a specific email. Using this type of tracking can shape your understanding of the success of a specific email campaign, and then extrapolate that information to determine if email as a contact strategy is working for your organization.
This is part one of a series of articles that will cover topics related to building and maintaining an effective email process.
Drew Marston is the Senior Director for Digital Integration at Resurgent Capital Services, where he advocates for utilizing technology to enable transformational change and optimization across all aspects of the consumer collections lifecycle to create a meaningful, fully integrated digital channel communication experience for both external customers and internal consumers.
Erin Kerr is the Director of Content for iA Strategy & Tech - a digital resource for collections strategy executives - and the Executive Director of the iA Innovation Council. She is a seasoned receivables management professional, with recent experience in digital strategy and a passion for crafting digital solutions for a better customer experience.