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The Credit Services Association (CSA)
Blog: How customer-centric Learning & Development is changing the culture of the debt collection sector
Fiona Macaskill is the Credit Services Association’s Head of Learning & Development. She is responsible for developing the Association's learning and education programmes as part of a comprehensive career and professional development pathway, and to facilitate sharing of best practice in learning and development across the industry.
As the UK’s trade body for the debt collection sector, our role is to ensure that member companies and the wider industry uphold the highest professional standards. A key part of this is delivering up-to-the-minute learning and development programmes that embed the right culture into the organisation for long term impact.
It’s all down to customer experience
Professional learning and development is all about culture – a business culture is not what the business says it’s going to do, but what it actually does. The reality check for whether the correct culture is embedded within a business is down to the customer’s experience with the organisation. For debt collection agencies (DCAs), their clients are not the customer; their client’s customers (i.e. the people the DCA speak to on a day-to-day basis) are. The way that DCAs deal with these customers is heavily regulated and also has a big impact on the effectiveness of the business, so it’s in everyone’s interests to make the relationship a positive one. If people don’t want to speak to DCAs, because they have had a poor customer experience then reaching a sustainable agreement and one that would ultimately benefit both parties, can be very difficult.
The debt collection sector has well-known reputational issues when it comes to consumer perceptions but we hope that with further education and industry awareness, this perception is slowly becoming less negative. This again is all down to business culture. Customer-centric learning and development needs to be embedded throughout the organisation, from senior management to compliance experts to ‘front line’ staff who talk directly to customers on the phone. Whilst the technicalities of compliance are a key focus, our qualifications place huge emphasis on the customer journey and reaching positive sustainable outcomes. This isn’t just theory, it happens in practice. When I observe classes a key focus of discussions is on treating customers fairly and identifying and supporting customers in vulnerable situations.
If you don’t have engaged employees, you can’t have engaged customers
There has always been a real appetite for professional development in the debt collection sector – many of our member companies have their own academies and professional development programmes in addition to taking up CSA professional qualifications. This is down to businesses recognising that employee engagement and retention needs to be better if they want a positive customer experience.
Our Level 2 Diploma is an entry level technical award, that can be incorporated in a comprehensive Apprenticeship programme. New apprenticeships for the industry are currently being developed which will offer debt collection as a more credible career path in financial services. Effective recruitment, training and development identifies people with natural empathy and emotional intelligence to deal directly with customers on a sensitive and emotive issue.
Likewise, our Level 3 Diploma is a comprehensive programme focused on ensuring that customers are speaking to or interacting with knowledgeable and skilled people. This too comes down to culture and companies are realigning focus to being about sustained customer relationships. Our learning and development programmes are built around this to help businesses meet these objectives.
You can’t learn about people from a text book
This move from a process/systems-driven approach to a much more ‘human’ approach has prompted us to adapt our learning and development programmes to make them more practical, drawing on real life scenarios that can’t be learnt using a text book. Our Level 5 Diploma in Compliance Risk Management is very focused on culture and strategy at a high level and has two strong work-based elements that give students a real understanding of how a plan plays out in reality with real customers. It’s more than just gaining knowledge, it’s how you implement that knowledge effectively for better customer outcomes.
Keeping on top of the latest developments
Of course, the move towards authorisation by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and other industry regulators has forced the sector to do more to keep on top of the latest regulatory developments, but it’s also important for organisations to constantly refresh their thinking based on the customer experience – and it is the people at the ‘coalface’ dealing with customers that really understand this best. Our Collector Accreditation Initiative (CAI) is an online test that assesses individual collectors’ knowledge and scope of understanding regarding industry compliance. It is refreshed on an annual basis so that the questions are always up-to-date and has key sections on Treating Customers Fairly (TCF). By drilling down to an individual level to test competence on a regular basis, we are ensuring that collectors are practicing what we and the regulators preach – and encouraging them to go above and beyond compliance to do the best they possibly can for the customer.
All of our learning and development programmes are open to members and non-members and we pride ourselves on being at the cutting edge of what’s happening in the sector to make sure that our students are one step ahead of regulatory changes and are pushing themselves to go the extra mile.
If you’re interested in finding out more visit our website or call 0191 217 3073 / 0191 217 3079.