Collection agencies are turning to speech analytics to identify compliance violations, lessen risk and resolve disputes.
The debt collection industry is indebted to speech analytics. Not only does speech technology improve a collection agency’s process and profits, it offers a legal safeguard by ensuring stricter compliance.
Prior to the advent of speech analytics, the best way to monitor agent-customer conversations was to listen to a handful of randomly selected calls either by recording or live monitoring, and subjectively score them as best as one could. Not only was the process tedious, the sample size was far too small to detect patterns and trends or draw any meaningful conclusions.
Speech analytics has catapulted the call center world from those horse-and-buggy days into an exciting new era of technological wizardry. Instead of teams of analysts slogging through dozens or even hundreds of calls that may or may not provide any business intelligence, a properly tuned speech tool can intelligently extract data from every call and translate it into meaningful information. In turn, that information translates into better customer experiences, business success and greater revenue.
I'll never forget the reaction of one MainTrax client who hired us to identify debt collection agents who were violating compliance rules. He was aghast when we informed him that his new speech analytics tool had spotted the following “red flag” phrases that were uttered by his agents just in the previous week:
“Forced to pick up the car”
“We’ll garnish your wages”
“You’ve committed a crime”
“Have you arrested”
“Is the car at your home?”
“We’re going to come after you”
He turned pale at the thought of the financial penalties that enforcement agencies could collect from his collection firm for such inappropriate, illegal phrases. After all, according to the “Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Annual Report 2015,” (http://1.usa.gov/1JXe3tV) produced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), there were 88,300 debt collection complaints in 2014 resulting in:
- $13 million in fines;
- $700 million in relief to consumers who were subject to illegal collections practices; and
- 47 business and individuals banned from the business.
According to the CFPB:
- 20% of those complaints were concerning debt collectors’ communication practices—especially phone calls—including the use of obscenities and abusive language; the frequency of contact; and repeated calls to parties who could not be reached at the dialed number.
- 12% were concerning threatening an illegal action such as arresting or jailing consumers; suing debtors who are overdue; and collecting on funds that are exempt, such as child support.
- 10% concerned false statements such as indicating the consumer committed a crime; or false representation such as impersonating an attorney or a government official.
Ultimately, pinpointing agent knowledge gaps and problematic behavior at debt collection agencies paves the way for coaching opportunities to improve performance, productivity and call-handling strategies.
Of course, it’s not just the agent side of the discussion that should be analyzed. Phrases spoken by the consumer can be equally telling. Some of the phrases our analysts have heard from customers of our debt collecting clients include:
“Don’t threaten me”
“This is harassment”
“This is illegal”
“I’ll call my lawyer”
“File a lawsuit”
MainTrax’s analysts have even heard calls in which consumers have cited their legal rights by quoting the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: “A debt collector may not engage in any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.”
Those legalese-spouting consumers are right. Debtors are guaranteed protection from harassment, verbal abuse and threatening or intimidating actions from collections agencies by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In turn, collection agencies need to protect themselves from non-compliant agents. In an instant, one rogue agent can single-handedly increase the risk that their company will be slapped with lawsuits and regulatory fines. For example, an agent citing what might appear to be an arbitrary deadline could put the agency at risk for litigation.
Contact centers that have not yet committed to speech analytics are putting their profits at risk. According to the CFPB, the number of contacts between debt collectors and consumers is expected to increase as the economy gets better.
What’s more, a new set of comprehensive federal regulations is in the works, much of which is designed specifically to protect consumers from unlawful collections practices. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau 2015 annual report, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), in its ongoing efforts to improve deterrence, has “focused on bringing a greater number of cases and obtaining stronger monetary and injunctive remedies against debt collectors that violate the law.” It’s worth noting that state regulations may be even more stringent.
By improving compliance, speech analytics lessens risk and can prove invaluable in resolving disagreements. “We’ve always emphasized compliance at our agency, but speech analytics has helped us reduce legal fees by an estimated 15% to 20%,” says Larry Costa, president of Buffalo, New York-based Capital Management Services.
It didn’t take long for Costa’s firm to generate a healthy ROI after implementing Castel Detect™, a real-time speech analytics solution, which not only searches for targeted keywords and phrases during live conversations, it incorporates emotion analysis and provides this information directly to the agent and management base while the call is occurring.
Detection accuracy is an important consideration when determining whether particular events are occurring in real time. For example, a customer uttering the phrase, “I’m frustrated” or “I’m angry” can result in the solution popping an alert to the agent and/or someone from the management team. “A manager can then walk over and assist the agent to ensure a better customer experience,” Costa says.
Many leading collection agencies are folding speech analytics into their system, not just to ward off instances of non-compliance, but as a tool for improving call handling. The results are significant: Costa credits speech analytics with increasing revenue per agent by more than 10%. “Real-time voice analytics has been a very good investment,” Costa says. “It’s been a valuable training mechanism and makes calibrations much easier. With analysis and training, the customer experience has become even more positive, with fewer complaints.”
Integrating a speech analytics solution immediately bestows a halo of credibility and professionalism on a collection agency. It is an implicit promise to clients that they will be represented in a positive light to their customers and to other companies in their industry. As our collection agency clients will attest, a reputation for excellence and integrity is as good as money in the bank.