Many in the collections industry consider omnichannel to be the digital strategy of the future, but what does that actually mean? What does a true omnichannel strategy look like? How does that differ from a multichannel solution? And what can or should you be doing to make sure you’re headed towards a true omnichannel solution?
During a recent session at iA Strategy & Tech, Mike Cassidy of M&G Solutions summed it up nicely: the word omnichannel "is often used and even more often misused.”
Here are three questions you should be asking if you want to understand what it means to pursue a true omnichannel strategy for receivables, why a digital collections strategy like this matters, and what it means to be ready for implementation.
1. We call, email, text, and send letters. Don’t we already have an omnichannel solution?
You may think you are operating with an omnichannel solution because you have many channels available for customers to contact you, or for you to contact them. You have outbound and inbound calling, letters, a super-functional website/customer portal, chat, and maybe even SMS and email outreach. You’re feeling good about the number of channel choices you’ve given customers to contact you, and maybe that’s enough?
What I described above is a multichannel solution, not an omnichannel one. And, don’t get me wrong, a multichannel solution is fine. The digital expansion in the last few years happened really quickly, and taking the steps to allow contact outside of letters and calls is a huge deal. But soon (very soon), it won’t be enough. An omnichannel solution, by definition, requires all of your tools to exist in one environment. All of the channels you have available for customers are talking to each other, and reacting to the same data.
Let’s play out a scenario with a true omnichannel solution.
Customer Jane Smith calls in after receiving a letter from you. She negotiates a payment plan with one of your live agents, but doesn’t feel comfortable providing her payment information over the phone, so your agent offers to send her a link to your payment portal via text message. She agrees, and receives the text immediately. She can then access your portal, where the arrangement she negotiated is prominently available for her to select, and then enter her payment information. Then, she receives an email with the details of her arrangement, as well as confirmation of her payment.
In this scenario, the customer had to do minimal work to resolve her account and all of the actions were triggered by other actions on the account, which is made possible by your communication channels living in the same environment.
2. Is our data ready?
A true omnichannel solution is driven by data, and “there’s so much risk and inefficiency introduced into the system because of bad data, and because the systems are not talking to each other,” says Jake Cahan, CEO of Debtsy. So, before you start vetting new vendors or building new applications, you need to make sure your data is ready. Ask questions like:
- Where are we storing data?
- Who/what applications can access that data?
- Do we use anything other than the “source of truth” to drive actions on accounts? IE are you using data copies in certain applications?
- Are we capturing all of the relevant data?
All of the tech you choose to use needs to receive data from the same source. Since the customer expectation is an immediate reaction from your technologies, it will be difficult to achieve a truly omnichannel solution using traditional batch processing, so you will have to explore other options, like APIs or webhooks. Of course, both of those options come with data security risks to consider. According to Drew Marston of Resurgent, it’s extremely important to review the data you are sending to make sure it’s the minimum data required to get the job done. (For more about data, check out The 4 Most Common Mistakes Plaguing Data Science and AI for Debt Collection)
3. Do we have the right personnel?
Implementing an omnichannel solution is different from onboarding a new tech vendor (which is, itself, challenging). Envision a wheel; each vendor partner is a spoke. But, the hub of the wheel is internal and will likely require some level of development, as well as project management and business analytics. If your company isn’t already well-versed in the importance of project management, this is a good time to jump on the bandwagon. Similarly, if your organization hasn’t traditionally invested in IT and IT adjacent roles, it might be time to consider a shift in that mentality. A successful omnichannel solution doesn’t merely rely on good technology and good data, it also relies on subject matter experts and having the right individuals in the right roles to advance the goals of your organization.
For more on getting the right personnel, making sure your data is ready, and many other steps you need to get right for a successful new digital technology implementation, check out "The Top 10 Blind Spots in Digital Collections (and How to Avoid Them)."
Erin Kerr is the Director of Content at insideARM and the chair of iA Strategy & Tech - a digital resource for collections strategy executives. 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.