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News & blogs: Blogs

Guest blog: The next generation of customer service in 2017

10 January 2017  
Jo Causon

Jo Causon is Chief Executive of the Institute of Customer Service. She spoke at the Credit Services Association’s UK Credit & Collections Conference #ukccc in September 2016 and, following her excellent session, she is the first confirmed speaker for the 2017 event.

In the debt collection sector – as in any area of the economy - customer engagement is vital. Customers are increasingly seeking empathetic experiences and, if this is absent, evidence suggests that the chance of success is greatly reduced.

Yet the sector has struggled with reputational issues in the past which left it faced with significant barriers to building effective customer relationships for the mutual benefit of all. This hasn’t been good for businesses in the sector and it hasn’t been good for customers, with many left frustrated, confused and without a resolution to their financial issue.

The result is a need for a greater focus on customer service and a better understanding of what customers want.

As I outlined during my talk at the UK Credit & Collections Conference, there are some key factors of future change that the debt collection sector needs to take into account in 2017:

  • Convenience: The pace of change and increased complexity will fuel rising demand for convenience in both business and consumer markets, stimulating innovation in customer service
  • Cyber wars: Online security is a growing concern and we will see a growth in cybersecurity investment as organisations look to build trust and protect their reputation
  • Rising regulatory demands, and scrutiny: a complex and sometimes competing mix of priorities between competition and innovation, consumer protection, consistent national and global standards of quality, governance and accountability will demand greater attention to ensure the customer experience is as positive as it possibly can be
  • Artificial Intelligence: emerging technologies will transform how individuals interact in personal, professional and business contexts and the impact this will have on service strategies cannot be understated
  • Emerging generations: will have greater economic challenges than their predecessors with different attitudes towards individualism, ownership and familiarity with technologies yet share many of their forbears’ aspirations, meaning that organisations will have to pay greater attention to the way in which they personalise service
  • Network economy: There will be increasingly flexible forms of business relationships and collaboration and growth in social commerce and peer to peer platforms


So what does the future customer look like?

Against this backdrop it will be pragmatic customers who will become more closely integrated with organisations they trust – but the onus must not be on the customer to act first. As the UK Customer Satisfaction Index demonstrates, customers increasingly have a much lower tolerance threshold for mistakes or problems and it is those organisations who recognise the importance of gaining a deep understanding of their customers’ needs and preferences who are more likely to develop a sustainable relationship. As part of this, the way in which employees’ skills, attitudes and behaviours are developed and demonstrated will go a long way to ensure things are right, first time, and where there are problems, they are solved quickly and efficiently.

The pace of change also shows no sign of relenting. For organisations in this sector the surge in technological advancement raises questions about how they can combine the need for transactional services with empathetic contact, help and advice. The answer increasingly lies in the way these organisations create and enhance their customers’ experience. Those that see customer service as a cost centre rather than an asset risk jeopardising relationships with their customers and employees to the detriment of their reputation and business performance. Those that recognise the link between service excellence and growth will be the ones to benefit. Over the next year, therefore, it will become more important than ever for organisations to develop – and demonstrate the financial return on investing in – improved customer experiences.

It is, after all, in times of exceptional uncertainty, with further significant change and disruption predicted to lie ahead, that a relentless focus on customer needs will achieve sustainable success.


What are the challenges facing the debt collection sector?

  1. When planning for the future, organisations in the debt collection sector will face seven key challenges:
  2. Finding creative ways of collecting, analysing, using customer data
  3. Ensuring data security and transparency
  4. Collaborating more effective to integrate/simplify services
  5. Employing creativity in designing personalised customer experiences
  6. Recruiting and developing people with emotional intelligence, merging data analytics, marketing and customer experience skills
  7. Building and demonstrating trust
  8. Keeping up with the dynamic regulatory context


While 2016 has been a huge turning point for the sector, the hard work won’t stop here. 2017 is set to be the most challenging yet for organisations across all sectors as the consumer becomes an even more powerful driver in how we develop and deliver products and services. It’s a big challenge but the foundations have been laid for a positive future.

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