MagiaLiquid: Debt collection experience

Our client wanted to improve their debt collection experience, making it easier for consumers to pay their debts, helping them in the refinancing process, and improving customer loyalty towards the State Bank. On the other hand, our team realized that our client had the opportunity to become the public entity to tackle the social issue of defaulting on debt, creating a unique proposal in the industry.

INTRODUCTION

Challenge.
We took the challenge to create a new debt collection experience, focused on helping customers regain financial stability and confidence in a better future.

Brief.
Our Design Team was hired by the only government-owned Debt Collection Company, associated to the State Bank. The State Bank is the entity that opens doors of financial inclusion in Chile, giving access to credit, student loans and other financial products to segments that are usually excluded from the private sector. These vulnerable segments are more likely to default on payments, making a Debt Collection Company a necessity for the State Bank. Our client wanted to improve their debt collection experience, making it easier for consumers to pay their debts, helping them in the refinancing process, and improving customer loyalty towards the State Bank. On the other hand, our team realized that our client had the opportunity to become the public entity to tackle the social issue of defaulting on debt, creating a unique proposal in the industry. The result was a unique and improved experience, that not only makes the process of debt collection easier but also gives people council, education and the tools to improve their situation.

Objectives.
Improve the customer experience to ensure the first choice of debt payment for the client.
To do so, we needed to Design a unique service experience strategy that adds value to the brand and its customers in every touchpoint.
Understand customer real needs and emotions during the whole process of debt collection and designing every touchpoint, processes, defining standards and metrics to control the impact.

PROCESS

Stage 1 / Understanding
Methods.
The first stage focused on collecting and analyzing information, combining different methods to gain a comprehensive vision about the context, the organization and their clients. The methods applied were:

  • Meta Analysis. Analysis of the client’s studies and documents, complemented with extensive desktop research. This was used to create a complete understanding of the debt collection industry, the national context surrounding debt, trends, industry players, plus a deep understanding of our client’s strategy, culture, processes, and performance.
  • Observation Safari. The design team visited 5 different branch offices and the company call center to observe the physical space and interactions in context. An observation guideline was used by the team to ensure the quality of information.
  • Qualitative Study. The team conducted in-depth interviews with 31 customers – divided in four different regions – to gain a rich understanding of their situation, experience with the service, needs, worries, and aspirations. Additionally, 12 employees were interviewed to understand their process, culture, motivation, challenges and how they believe they are adding value. All interviews were scheduled, semi-structured, and lasted 60 minutes on average.
  • Quantitive Study. An online survey answered by 298 customers allowed the team to quantify the service attributes collected from the other research stages. This allowed the team to understand what customers valued from the current service, which attributes need to improve, and which attributes have the potential to create the most impact on the service.

Deliverables.
The information collected from these methods was analyzed as a whole, allowing the team to understand the complete experience system, gain insights and reach a service diagnosis. This information was reflected in the following deliverables:

  • Research Report. Consolidation of the complete research stage.
  • Insight Cards. Set of fourteen cards summarizing key insights, written from the customer’s point of view. These helped communicate findings easily and efficiently in the later stages of the project.
  • User Personas. The team created five different profiles. These helped create empathy and a deeper understanding of the customer’s behaviors, emotions, and needs.
  • Customer Journey Maps. Three customer journey maps were developed to create a shared understanding on how customers live the experience, visualizing critical moments and moments of truth. Each map shows a different user path: the first one focusing on the case of an unsuccessful negotiation, while the other two show successful negotiations with different payment methods.

Customer Journey Summary.

  • Relationship with associated Bank. Being a debt collection customer is not something that people choose, the relationship starts when the user acquires financial products in the associated bank. In this phase, the user falls into debt because of a critical life situation or overspending and is unable to pay his product fee. The bank derives the customer to their debt collection branch where a different agent offers a solution to pay their debts. This phase helped us to understand the emotional baggage that the user goes through once he reaches our client.
  • Contact. The debt collection agency contacts the customer for the first time to inform him of his default status and invite him to the branch office to find a solution. Here, the user becomes painfully aware of his situation, and the offer to find a solution becomes a tacit promise of relief. While this contact is seen as friendly, many users find the calls insistent and annoying.
  • Beginning of the Relationship. The user visits the branch office for the first time with the hope of finding a solution. He doesn’t mind convenience factors such as wait time or comfort, as long as he can find support and fix his situation. His executive offers the available solutions.
  • Consolidation. The user can accept or reject the solution, depending on how the customer percibes that it adjusts to his reality. Users that reject solutions tend to distance themselves from our client, while users that accept a solution begin making monthly payments. Most users are given no other choice than to physically pay in a branch office, which becomes an obstacle because of the limited locations and opening hours. After the negotiation, the company’s only contact with its customers is around late payments.

Key Insights.
We understood that most of our client’s customers lack financial resources and have a rudimentary educational level, making them economically vulnerable to unexpected life situations and poor administration of their financial products. They reach debt collection during a critical moment in their lives, financially and personally, which is marked by frustration, fear and desperation. They don’t want to be seen as irresponsible, they do worry about their debts but don’t have enough resources to pay.

These customers are used to being harassed by debt collection agencies, and they don’t expect to deserve more because of their default status. In this context, customers value our client’s respectful treatment and understanding approach, being what sets them apart from other companies. However, our client’s understanding falls short when offering solutions and after negotiation, with a restrictive payment process and lack of communication with customers. Customers want to be understood, and for this understanding to translate into actions and not just passive listening. They need an offer that adjusts to their reality, they need flexibility and guidance during the process, and they need recognition for their efforts.

Additionally, considering that the Bank and Debt Collection Company are government-owned companies, customers expect them to fulfill a social role that is not expected of the private financial sector. Our client already has a socially responsible spirit in its company culture, further turning this social role into an opportunity to help customers beyond the payment of their debt.

Stage 2 / Define & Test
Methods.

The second stage focused on using the knowledge gained from the understanding stage to co-create the new experience. This process included workshops, user testing, and many iterations between the design team and the client team.

  • Experience Concept Workshop: The team invited 14 company leaders – including the CEO – to define the purpose behind the service. As an introduction, the design team exposed the main findings from the research stage, giving participants time to understand the insight cards and user personas. Participants were then introduced to the LEGO Serious Play methodology and were asked to build models of how they see their service today and how the service 1 should be in the future. This method allowed participants to actively engage, discuss, and integrate their different visions in a common model. The participants then created a story for their common model and were asked to summarize this into a sentence representing their aspired service vision, along with the attributes that they believed to be the most important. These definitions were later worked on by the design team and iterated with the client team until reaching the final Experience Concept and Attributes.
  • Aspired Customer Journey Workshop. With the Experience Concept and Attributes as guides, this workshop invited 40 employees from different areas to create a New Customer Journey, moment by moment. Participants were divided into six teams, each equipped with a Customer Journey and corresponding User Persona. They started by designing the ideal flow for that user by filling in a blank customer journey canvas with post-its, defining moment names, descriptions, channels and experience codes. They were later asked to check how their new journey aligned with the experience definitions, and how they would work for other User Personas. Six different journeys resulted from this process, which the design team consolidated into a unique and comprehensive Aspired Customer Journey Map and iterated with the client team.
  • Prototypes Workshop. We invited 23 of the employees and leaders who had participated in previous workshops to bring their ideas to life through prototypes. Participants were divided into four teams, and each given a different selection of moments from the Aspired Customer Journey. They were given several templates to draw and design their ideas, guided by the Design Team. The prototypes created in the workshop were turned into more finished versions by the design team, resulting in 13 conceptual prototypes and 1 navigational mockup website.
  • User Testing. The prototype stage allowed the team to evaluate ideas directly with customers, understanding how we were responding to their needs, the impact of these initiatives and how to improve. Prototypes were tested in three different regions (Santiago, Concepcion and Iquique) to get national representation, and users were approached in two different ways: (1) 46 spontaneous interviews in branch offices, dividing the prototypes into smaller parts and testing as many as users allowed. (2) 24 scheduled one-hour interviews, where the user evaluated a given set of prototypes in depth. The prototypes evolved in the testing process, gaining valuable feedback with each iteration. The Aspired Customer Journey was modified according to the findings.
  • Service Blueprint Workshop. We invited 13 company leaders to co-create the processes that would support the Aspired Customer Journey. Here, the teams analyzed the Aspired Customer Journey and filled in a blank Service Blueprint Canvas to determine necessary customer-facing tasks and support processes moment by moment.

Deliverables.

  • Workshop Reports. The client received a report after each workshop. These included workshop details, participant list, photos, transcriptions/digitalization of all co-created material, and conclusions.
  • User Testing Report. After the user tests, our team created a report detailing each prototype’s evolution, customer feedback and conclusions.
  • Experience Concept and Attributes. The client was given a presentation to explain the new experience definitions within the organization. This included the final Experience Concept phrase detailed word by word, and detailed attributes with associated actions.
  • Aspired Customer Journey. The new experience is represented in the Aspired Customer Journey, made up of 30 moments divided into 5 stages. This flow shows all possible paths that a user can take, incorporating digital channel alternatives and recuperation strategies for critical points. The Journey Map also portrays how each moment aligns to the key attributes, reflecting how each moment is relevant to the final customer experience.
  • Service Blueprint. The Service Blueprint takes the moments from the Aspired Customer Journey, giving tangible onstage, backstage and support actions to each moment. This tool adds an operational layer so that the client can bring the new experience to life.

Key Results.
The definition process leveraged our client’s socially responsible culture aligned with customer insights. This yielded a new experience definition, summarized in the phrase: “We understand, provide counsel and guide people in a transformative process that empowers and gives them the tools to recover their financial stability and confidence in a better future.”, and five key attributes: Empathetic, Accompaniment, Transformative, Educational and Meaningful.

These definitions lay the groundwork for a new customer journey, with initiatives focused on helping people overcome their critical financial situation. The new journey proposes digital channels to bring negotiation, payment, and council closer to users who live in remote areas or don’t have the time to visit a branch office. It also proposed building a deeper relationship with customers, by giving them advice (on social benefits, financial education, how to improve their working condition), orientation and recognition.

During the user tests, the design team got positive feedback on proposed initiatives and validated the new experience definition. Users valued the convenience of online payments, getting information at the right moment, being able to resolve issues through a chat interface, and saw job improvement initiatives as a virtuous cycle – where the debt collection company helps debtors gain better income, and the debtor has money to pay the debt collection company.

The team also observed that users consider their relationship to be with the Bank and that they want to feel like valued customers instead of being derived to a different entity. For this reason, it was important to show the Debt Collection Company as a specialized unit within the Bank, designing an appropriate unit transfer and framing new initiatives within the already existing Bank Platforms. The Customer Journey was modified to align user and client feedback and was then operationalized through the Service Blueprint.

Stage 3 / Implementation
Methods.
The implementation stage consolidated the final experience into deliverables designed to help the client team roll-out the new debt collection experience. Two workshops have also been scheduled with the client in order to install the new service culture within employee
representatives. These workshops will have 30 participants each, one focused on the branch executives and the other on call center employees.

Deliverables.

  • Experience DNA Document. An interactive PDF document detailing the complete Experience Project, along with the new experience definitions. This is to be shared within the organization. It can be used also as an induction for new collaborator of the debt collection agency.
  • Initiative Worksheets. The Design Team and Client team leveraged the initiatives found in the new Customer Journey and the Service Blueprint. A worksheet was created for each initiative, containing a brief description, explaining which insights are being resolved, and which customer journey moments are associated with the initiative. The worksheets were given to the client team to assign resources, prioritize and assign responsible area and activities necessary for implementation. Different initiatives from cultural change or building new capacities on the team were defined as longer-term implementation, or new system or support development were required such as creating a system to share the history of the client among the different areas of the bank.
  • Key Performance Indicators. We designed a set of KPI’s to measure the different attributes of the experience to match the existing surveys already implemented. We prioritized the attributes to be measured along the service blueprint to control the impact that each improvement could have on the client experience. In that sense, we defined a set of basic attributes such as empathy, or accompaniment that could be measured at each interaction, and the attributes that were key to creating differentiation such as educational, or transformative were defined to be measured on key interactions of the experience. 

OUTPUTS

Client Benefits
The client benefited from the design of a new service experience that is unique in the debt collection industry. The deliverables described in the process – such as Aspired Customer Journey, Service Blueprint, Experience DNA, KPI, and Initiatives – will help our client gradually roll-out the experience by creating new channels, training their employees and bringing the new experience to all branch offices.

On the other hand, the client also benefited from a process that installed a new user-centered culture. Our client was able to gain a deep understanding of their customer, creating within the organization through the use of rich user personas. They were given definitions – such as the Experience Concept and Attributes – to help guide future decision making, while co-creation helped break down silos to align different areas around the final user.

User Benefits
The new experience will benefit customers in several ways. On one hand, processes become more efficient, helping people save time through scheduled appointments, online negotiation, remote payment channels and new ways to resolve their issues with executives. Information is also given at key points to guide the user, such as a host for when they first arrive at the branch office or messages after each payment that show users their progress and recognizes their payment milestones.

On a deeper level, the service will create value by helping clients change their financial situation. The company will give access to financial education sources in the branch office waiting room and their website; executives also give personalized advice on financial administration, social benefits, and other ways that the customer can use to decrease their financial burden and make their spending more efficient. Considering that many of the users that are not making their payments are unemployed or don’t earn enough, the new experience will also guide people on how to improve their work condition, giving advice on unemployment benefits, sources on how to improve their CV and work interviews, inviting them to workshops to work with specialists on improving their job search, and connecting them to labor portals.

IMPACT

The impact of this project is going to be a radical change in the debts collectors industry at a national level. From collecting money to create a social value by helping end educating needed citizens. As the Debt collection agency depends directly of the bank state the impact of this project could touch the millions of Chileans that have an account in the bank. We hope that this new way of understanding debt collection also set a new standard on Chilean banking policies, defending clients values and needs.

Even if the level of satisfaction is already quite high, mostly because the clients in this situation doesn’t have big expectations on the service, around 75%, anyway we are sure that this project once implemented can have a strong impact on the quality of the agents' service and the satisfaction on information received. The satisfaction on the solution provided also will have an improvement due to a better understanding of clients banking restrictions for products and finally a high improvement on channels by incorporating many digital channels as a payment and solution method.

The impact on the organization was that Client Experience was understood as one of the major priorities in the organization at
an executive level. A board of experience was created to implement, measure, and align different areas of the organization, and tackle new experience challenges.

One of the impacts was also that the project helped them to understand the value of creating different contact and experience strategies for the different customer profiles they have in the organization. The organization started to understand how important is the relation, such as creating a link to understanding that they help people and not clients. They understood that it was key to listen y observe what client say. That decisions y actions on the organization must be centered on them. To be able to implement this change at a 100% they must think big but start acting at a small scale. Prototyping was the key of the project and for the implementation to be able to show result and measure the impact on investment.

The organization also learned that normalization, as they call the process to pay the debt, is not only oriented to results but also depends strongly on the experience that people lives throughout the process. Finally, the organization declares that there is a much bigger sensibility on different teams on the contact channels with clients. This is mostly driven by a strong purpose of their everyday work, due to the new experience definitions.

 

CONCLUSION

The process of collaborating with the client team was a success. At least 100 collaborators were involved in the different stages of the process, in workshops, research or prototyping they were contributing from their different areas of expertise. Also, we had the opportunity to transfer strong service design skills as a methodology for tackling new challenges in experience at least we the team in charge and the two main areas supporting the project.

Main takeaways of the project are the understanding of clients emotions during the process and the relevance of giving an experience according to that. Also, we can highlight the strategic experience definition that will align the different areas of the organization and also
aligned the results of the initiatives when scaling the projects. Besides the need of change installed by a new strategic economic scenario, the project set the bases for a long work of implementation of significative changes on the clients' experience.

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