Back in 2013, we carried out in-depth research on behalf of the Credit Services Association (CSA) – the UK trade body for the debt collection sector – into consumer and stakeholder perceptions of the organisation and its members. We then used the research findings to develop a digital communications strategy for the sector and now work with the CSA on online insight gathering and strategic consumer and stakeholder engagement. We have also worked with CSA member companies on high quality, customer-facing content for their websites and other communications channels. We were asked to submit an article to their member magazine, the CSA Review, on how debt collection agencies can improve their online presence and much of the advice within it is relevant to the wider financial services sector so we thought we’d share it here…
One of the most important findings that came out of the research we carried out on behalf of the CSA was that the first thing customers do when they receive a letter from a debt collection agency is Google the company name. Whilst there is little you can do about other search results such as historical consumer forum content (other than making sure customers have no reason to post complaints about your company in future!), the content on your own website is something that you can control. But when was the last time you took a step back and looked at it from a customer/stakeholder perspective? There’s no time like the present to start. Here are the key things you should be doing.
Get it compliance checked
With so many regulatory changes to consider and keep up with, it’s easy to let your website slip, especially if it is managed by an external web developer and/or is the sole responsibility of the marketing team. Make sure a compliance expert checks it on a regular basis to ensure the content meets all current regulation – if you don’t, the regulator certainly will be at some point! Also make sure that you aren’t breaching any guidelines on use of logos. You should be displaying neither the OFT or FCA logos and if you are linking to organisations like the CSA and debt charities (which is a good idea) make sure you’re following their brand guidelines and using the most up to date branding. As with your letterheads and other materials, it is a requirement that you include all the necessary Companies House information on your website and that contact information is present and as easy as possible to find. Any tools on your website or customer apps should also be checked to ensure they meet current guidelines.
Make the most of your CSA membership
The relatively new CSA website has been designed as a hub for consumer content about debt collection. It is there to reassure customers who are contacted by a CSA member company that they will be treated fairly. We know from our research that fear and uncertainty are big barriers to customers making or accepting contact from a debt collection agency so make sure that you signpost to helpful info on the CSA website from your own site. Linking to other impartial sources of support such as debt charities will also help.
Look the part
If your website doesn’t look professional and isn’t user friendly, it’s only going to add to customers’ cynicism. Remember most customers will be accessing your website on a mobile device so it needs to be mobile responsive. If it isn’t already, you’ll probably need a new site building, rather than just trying to adapt your current one. Your corporate branding also needs to be modern and well designed and all images should be high quality and authentic to your business – not cheesy stock shots of people in headsets! If your call centre staff take a personal, ‘human’ approach, make sure this comes across on the site. Also make sure the look and feel of your site is consistent with your other customer-facing materials.
Let excellent customer service do the talking
As part of our research into consumer perceptions, we noted that customers were highly critical of debt collection agencies that over-stated or ‘showed off’ about their ethical credentials. Content such as announcements and pictures from awards ceremonies particularly grated on them! The best approach is to acknowledge that excellent customer service is a ‘given’ and make sure you practice what you preach. When it comes to showcasing your expertise on your website, less is more. Supporting the customer comes first.
Speak in customers’ language
Your website shouldn’t be used as a jargon-filled tool to sell to clients. In fact, the best way to demonstrate your credentials to clients is to speak directly to customers in language that they can understand and relate to. Why not get your customer-facing staff to sense-check it and input into whether it is fit for purpose for the customers they speak to? Better still, ask for feedback from a customer focus group. ‘Listening’ to the kind of language used by customers on online forums will also help. Remember, they’re looking for credibility and reassurance – but as with the last point, ‘over-egging’ it sends them away searching for a second opinion.
Keep evolving it
Is your business run in the exact same way as it was five years ago, or even six months ago? Of course not. As your business evolves your website should too. The beauty of it being a digital platform is that you can keep adding to and amending it all the time so don’t have a new website built and think that your work here is done for the next few years. It should be a constant work in progress. Take the time to step back and audit your website with a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ from a customer/regulatory perspective on a regular basis.
If you need any external help or support with your online presence, make sure you use someone who understands the sector and the sensitivities and issues that surround the customer relationship. They don’t have to be regulatory experts but they need to know about the importance of compliance in the context of customer-centricity. If you’d like any advice, you can contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org