month 03
day 23
year 2017

Getting on the front foot: key takeaways from the Utility Week Consumer Debt Conference

Paying off debt

The Utility Week Consumer Debt Conference took place on 16th March, 2017, exploring the challenges utility companies face in developing an effective collections strategy, compliance, and leveraging new technology.

Some extraordinary statistics were revealed by speakers who’ve adopted a digital, self-serve strategy for collecting debt. After their first full year of ‘transformation’, Thames Water announced:

Vulnerable customers

However, the main theme of the day was vulnerability and what the utilities sector is doing to help those who are vulnerable and in debt.

“Vulnerability can be a transient state that affects people at different points in time, or it can have long-term effects. It may be triggered by events such as loss of a job, the onset of disability, or becoming a carer.” – Citizens Advice

An unexpected change in circumstances can prompt people to bury their heads in the sand and / or become embarrassed about their current situation, especially those who’ve previously had the finances to pay bills.

Moreover, the customer might be unaware of what help is available, so it’s important for the company to whom the debt is owed to proactively engage with them to stop the situation getting worse.

It was really refreshing to see companies being proactive on this subject, or as Iain Pilling (Head of Income Domestic Retail – United Utilities) kept referencing, getting on the front foot!

In practice, being proactive means:

  • Upskilling staff to ensure empathy is portrayed when speaking with vulnerable customers
  • Placing qualifying customers on special ‘social tariffs’ to help get back on their feet
  • Never disconnecting supply to the most vulnerable, despite potentially being in arrears.

How technology can support an empathetic approach to debt collection

Vulnerable customers utilities SMSThe immediacy and personal feel of SMS means it lends itself as a channel to show empathy and to guide the vulnerable customer to information that may help them.

If there are schemes or tariffs that are available for these customers, then a proactive SMS could save weeks of non-contact and show the customer that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Obviously you’ve limited space in a text message, and that’s where partnering SMS with a mobile web app can deliver an exceptional customer experience and great outcomes.

Using rich media – video, imagery, even just a thoughtful colour scheme – can make the message appear warmer, while giving the customer the opportunity to sign up there and then to vulnerability schemes, or request a call back with a specialist member of the team.

The added benefit of a solution like Esendex’s Mobile Journeys is that they’re tailored for a mobile user, and remove much of the friction associated with accessing traditional websites via a mobile phone.

Features including pre-filled forms, progress bars and touchscreen friendly interactions all contribute towards improved engagement rates.

We’re here to help you reduce the burden of debt on a vulnerable customer, while balancing the commercial needs of your stakeholders, so please contact me or any member of the team on 0345 356 5758, or email adam.rathbone@esendex.com to learn more.

month 03
day 22
year 2017

Is SMS finally ready to evolve? Introducing RCS…

Applications of text messages

Let’s start with the big question – what exactly is RCS?

RCS stands for Rich Communication Service, and is designed to improve upon the functionality offered by SMS.

If you’ve used WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple’s iMessage etc. then you’ll have a good idea how much messaging services have evolved in the 25 years since SMS was launched.

However, in order to benefit from the enriched services these apps offer, both you and your contacts will need to install them – whereas SMS is delivered with every handset.

The intention behind RCS is that it could replace SMS, becoming the new standard for text-based communication between phones.

What can RCS do that SMS can’t?

As a standard, RCS has plenty of cool features which will sound familiar to most smartphone users:

  • Chat
  • Group chat
  • File transfer
  • Audio messaging
  • Video share
  • Location sharing
  • Live sketching.

The ‘out of the box’ functionality doesn’t just end with features for messaging though. RCS can add intelligence to the way we make calls too.

Callers are able to add ‘wrappers’ to their calls which add context even before the recipient accepts the call. As an example, doctors’ surgeries who need to contact patients with important test results could add a brief description to the incoming call, so even if the number isn’t recognised by the recipient, the text description will give them more information.

Depending on the network and phone being used, RCS can go even further! How about customising the messages your company sends with your own colours and logos? Or perhaps you’d like to deliver richer content through RCS, like boarding passes and discount vouchers? These and many more possibilities are being explored by developers working on the advanced messaging platform.

Why haven’t I heard of RCS before?

RCS isn’t a new concept. It’s actually been around since 2007, but until now it hasn’t taken off. So what’s changed? The answer to that is simple – Google.

In late 2015 Google announced that they would be adopting RCS, in a move designed to bring the standard to all Android devices – which, with their commanding market share, was the push the initiative needed to gain momentum.

Market share held by mobile operating systems

Market share held by mobile operating systems in the UK – Statistia

Concurrently, Google acquired Jibe Mobile, a leading provider of RCS services, and are now inviting messaging solutions / platform providers to work with them to develop the roadmap.

This is very exciting for an industry which for too long has been scratching its head about what the next evolution of native messaging will look like.

Is it being embraced?

Since Google acquired Jibe Mobile, things have started to develop at a much quicker pace. As at December 2016, 156 devices supported RCS, and 49 mobile operators had started to support it (source: GSMA).

These mobile operators include the likes of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Claro in the Americas, and Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom in Europe.

It’s worth noting that RCS is named differently depending on the operator and country; in many countries it’s branded as ‘joyn‘, but Vodafone in the UK are currently referring to it as ‘Message+‘.

RCS also falls under the umbrella of the GSMA’s “Universal Profile”, which aims to provide a framework for next generation calling and messaging (NB: the GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem).

The benefit for RCS of being tied to the Universal Profile is that future communication services will be built with this framework in mind, ensuring compliance and future proofing for RCS.

What about the future?

Will it be a case of the GSMA waiting to see how the first wave of functionality performs, or will they continue to move forward? The answer would certainly seem to be the latter.

In the second quarter of 2017 an additional release of RCS is planned, which builds on the existing functionality currently on offer. Improvements on the way include:

  • Developer APIs
  • Plug-in integration
  • Improved authentication / app security

In my view, the GSMA is making a clear statement that they expect RCS to be the next evolution in smarter messaging.

What does this mean for your business?

For now, the standard is still being developed, so it’s a question of watch this space. The team at Esendex are busy exploring the potential for enhancing our business communication solutions, and will of course share significant updates with our customers.

month 03
day 13
year 2017

What got us excited at MWC 2017

MWC2017

Mobile World Congress 2017 saw well in excess of 100,000 visitors descending into Barcelona, intent on seeing the latest mobile phones and hardware, and the most advanced network solutions and messaging applications.

But what made us get excited? Here’s a round up of what made the Esendex team sit up and take notice.

The Internet of Things is growing and growing and growing…

With every passing year, the Internet of Things’ presence at MWC gains momentum, and while IoT has been around for a while now, some of its most exciting applications are just beginning to surface.

We saw some fantastic tracking applications which allow logistics businesses to track their new “smart pallets” and provide a more intelligent service.

“Our customers need to know that the seafood has been within a certain temperature range for the entire journey, and now they have sensors on the containers that look at the location, temperature, humidity, and they can even see if the doors have been opened at any point during the journey, which can speed up the process of getting it through customs.” (Source)

We also saw tracking applications in clothing, with IoT devices integrated into sailors’ jackets, allowing the sailors to be easily found if they fall overboard.

Planning the smart cities of the future

City life could be improved by IoT tackling everything from traffic flow improvement and pollution management, to energy efficiency and waste disposal.

In fact, it’s probably already being improved: for example, TomTom gathers anonymous traffic information from millions of satnav devices, and provides Vodafone users with real-time traffic reports. It suggests alternative routes so you can avoid congestion, and get to your destination more quickly (source).

This is all especially interesting for Esendex. We’re excited to see how our evolving communication channels can improve the links between users and the 27 billion IoT devices which are anticipated to be in use by 2025 (Machina Research, 2016).

Rich Communication Services (RCS) is coming

RCS as a concept has been around since 2007, but to date, hasn’t really got off the ground. However, that’s all set to change, and it’s something that we expect to be a major part of the future of business communications.

For those who are are unfamiliar with RCS, it’s an advanced messaging standard designed to improve on the functionality offered by messaging channels installed on all devices like SMS and MMS. The intention is that it will update and ultimately replace these services.

Among a raft of proposed features, RCS will allow users to incorporate better quality pictures, have group chats, share locations, and have video chats.

The game-changing move

In late 2015 Google announced that they would be adopting RCS, in a move designed to bring the standard to all Android devices. Concurrently, they acquired Jibe Mobile, a leading provider of RCS services, and are now inviting messaging solution / platform providers to work with them to develop the roadmap.

Being able to send more interactive and engaging messages is obviously something that the Esendex team are extremely interested in, as it would open up enriched messaging possibilities for our customers.

As such we’ll be keeping a very close eye on RCS over the coming months to see how it could complement our current communication channels, and work as part of a multichannel workflow.

Look out for more blog posts as we develop our proposition in these two hugely exciting areas of communication reform, or, if you’re an existing customer, have a chat with your account manager to find out more.

month 03
day 8
year 2017

Bold for change: What does International Women’s Day mean to Esendex?

 

International Women's Day @ Esendex nottingham

On the morning of International Women’s Day (today) one half of the available human capital represents a huge force for transformation economically, politically and civilly – but how can we ensure that the entire human capital is able to contribute?

The good news is, if you’re reading this, you probably already are…

Having marked the plight and achievements of women for more than a century, International Women’s Day celebrates women and unity; for reflection, gender parity and action. This year women globally are being asked to “Be Bold for Change!

A lot can happen in a year

In the past 12 months, the world has seen plenty of changes in the gender parity debate internationally, nationally and locally to Esendex.

Nothing could have epitomised this year’s theme of “being bold” more so than millions of women and men rallying in solidarity in support of women’s rights in January – it became one of the biggest human rights demonstrations in history.

The UK also gained its first female prime minister in almost 30 years, while more locally Esendex stepped up our aim to have greater diversity across all departments.

We’re proud sponsors of the Meetup group Women in Tech Notts, and the University of Nottingham’s Women in Technology conference day. We now have greater female representation across almost every department, including engineering and product development, than we’ve ever had before.

International Women's Day logo - Esendex are Bold for change

Things can only get better

More than half a billion women have joined the working world in the past 30 years (USAID), but as the internet and tech industries grow, women occupy just 17% of jobs available.

As a business we believe teams of different genders and backgrounds offer varied perspectives and experiences, which are key to always innovating and overcoming obstacles.

We rounded up some of the great women who keep the cogs turning at Esendex HQ, and asked them what IWD means to them and to whom they look for inspiration:

(more…)

month 02
day 17
year 2017

Memorable Passwords – Was it an “o” or a “0”?

Identifying ourselves as the account holder, customer, user or client of a particular service, is much faster with a password, especially when online. A correctly entered password can see you accessing your emails, contacting family and friends on the other side of the world and monitoring or transferring your hard-earned money in seconds. An incorrect password entry can see you denied access.

The doors that are opened by your memorable password are endless. Much faster and more efficient than making a phone call or carrying or photocopying ID, passwords are best kept private, ensuring that the system that the data is being entered into can come to the conclusion that the person logging in is you.

The average person in the UK has anywhere between 10 and 118 active accounts requiring passwords, according to Dashlane. If you want to keep each account secure, you will need a distinct, strong password for all of them.

So how can we create memorable passwords to access our accounts and ensure that we’re not inviting any unwanted visitors?

Memorable Sentences

A popular method is to think of a saying or sentence that means something to you and preferably, only you. It should be a reasonable length (absolute minimum 8 characters, we would recommend starting with 12), but not so long you forget it.

Tip: Try adding a misspelt word into your sentence to add an extra layer of entropy.

Random Words

You can also use the xkcd method and go with four (or more) random, common words which are made even more memorable by the mental imagery they conjure up.

Tip: Something like the cartoon below…

xkcd password strength

 

Don’t Overcomplicate Things

Yes, 2#^G;*x”F(`0C^s-+Npr0 would make a secure password and you could have any password generator spit out something like this, but what are the chances you will remember a password that looks like this, let alone twenty?

Password Generators

Trying to come up with a random phrase or string of words seems easier than it is, luckily there are a variety of password generators that can be found to help do that part for us. Whether you’re looking for a random word generator or a clever pattern to assist with remembering a password, it can be found online.

Whatever method you choose, please check the strength of the password methodology before applying across your accounts.

month 02
day 13
year 2017

How does the GDPR affect debt collection agencies?

GDPR Implications for Debt Collection

The debt collection industry is already heavily regulated, for obvious reasons. But there’s a new guideline being introduced by the ICO from 25th May 2018 which adds another very important consideration to the list of your internal business costs and priorities.

What is the GDPR?

It’s the General Data Protection Regulation, and replaces the Data Protection Act of 1998, although a lot of the principles are the same.

There are two key adjustments of which you need to be aware: transparency over customer data, and accountability.

The GDPR ensures personal data is processed lawfully, fairly and transparently; taking care to explain to customers why you collect their data, what you’re doing with it, and what their rights are to manage the data you hold for them.

The accountability principle means you must be able to demonstrate compliance with the data protection principles – to show your workings, so to speak.

What does this mean in practice?

To put it into real terms, contacting someone to address their account is acceptable, but ringing them multiple times a day with misleading Caller Line Identities (CLIs) or no voicemail option isn’t.

The transparency check fails when the CLI is misleading, and the accountability check fails if you can’t prove that you have all of your dialling and outbound communication channels working in sync.

In an already crowded market full of rules and regulations, this isn’t one to ignore.

Getting this one wrong has serious implications on you and your business’s profitability to the tune of €10 million or 2% of your turnover – that’s your growth plans squashed by one (very big and costly) mistake.

Will Brexit impact the implementation of the GDPR?

The simple answer: no. The UK government has already confirmed this is to be rolled out irrespective of our EU status in the future.

Esendex’s top tip on this: plan your next budget talks and focus investments around ensuring this is met and tracked. Look at your existing contact strategy and understand how GDPR can be implemented AND monitored.

Your GDPR checklist (courtesy of Bird & Bird LLP):

  • Review your data protection policies, codes of conduct and training to ensure that these are consistent with the revised principles
  • Ensure that you have a paper trail of decisions relating to data processing so that you can ‘demonstrate compliance’ if required
  • Review and (where necessary) update existing information notices
  • Review the training provided to your customer facing agents; updates may be required to processes and procedures
  • Make somebody responsible for data protection compliance within your organisation
  • Audit existing supplier arrangements and update template RFP and procurement contracts to reflect the GDPR’s data processor obligations
  • Assess liability exposure under existing customer, supplier and/or partner arrangements.

Can we help?

We’ve been serving the collections and customer contact space for over 10 years. We’ve seen the way customers are interacting with you change, from the traditional high-cost agent on the door, to low-cost tech-savvy self-service channels.

We know what can (and can’t) be said and can work with you, collaboratively, to help build a robust contact solution fit for your needs. Here’s a quick overview of our communication solutions for financial services.

month 02
day 8
year 2017

Password protection – The good, the bad and the ugly

Password Protection

In an increasingly more connected digital world, passwords are like the locks to your front door – they protect your online world. Traditionally the use of these was restricted to just bank accounts and emails. These days, the average UK email address has 118 accounts registered to it which also means 118 passwords to remember.

Your password is vital to keeping your personal data secured. So, how do you choose a password that will actually protect your digital world?

The bad

As would be expected, the most common passwords are the easiest to breach – qwerty, 123456, password and 111111 all appear on the list of 25 most common passwords and all, can be breached by a modern computer near instantly.

The ugly

You may have received previous advice that suggested to take a common phrase and replace letters with numbers and add punctuation, throwing in the occasional capital letter. An example would be pA5$W0rd. In reality using this would only take 9 hours to crack. As xkcd illustrate, this is hard for people to remember and easy for computers to hack.

The good

When it comes to passwords (for want of a better phrase) size does matter. The length of your password is more important than an incomprehensible string of letters, numbers and punctuation.

The best advice is to choose a phrase from song lyrics, a bad pun, a line from a Donald Trump speech – anything with an element of randomness to it.

You can also customise this to the account that the password relates to. Banking passwords become ‘if you invest your tuppence’ (approx 343 septillion years to crack) social media becomes ‘you’re so vain’ (approx 111 thousand years) and work becomes ‘working 9 to 5’ (two million years).

So the next time your application tells you that your password needs to be “Eight characters long including special characters” forget pA5$W0rd and go for “snow white and the seven dwarves” instead.

You will no longer need to remember which ‘S’ you replaced with ‘$’ and it will take a modern computer approximately 38 duodecillion years to crack (38,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 for those that were wondering).

month 02
day 3
year 2017

SMS Surveys: Yes or no?

SMS Surveys, yes or no

The landscape of customer service has radically changed in the past decade. 59% of 25-34 year olds share poor customer service experiences online (source: New Voice Media), and 60% of consumers have higher expectations for customer service now than they did just one year ago (source: Parature).

It’s never been more important to proactively gather feedback from your customers to gauge their level of satisfaction with your product and/or service.

Customer satisfaction has always been important to businesses, but now it’s right at the top of the agenda; so it’s not surprising that SMS Surveys are becoming increasingly common.

Speaking with friends and family, it’s rare to hear of someone who’s never received an SMS Survey. More “traditional” survey types have left consumers numb to email, telephone and checkout requests for “5 minutes of their time,”..

The good news is…

…Our pockets are within easy reach

From retailers, charities and banks right through to airports, the adoption of SMS as a method of communication is becoming ever more popular for businesses who want higher levels of engagement and even better response rates. Why? Because it’s instant and 93% of us own and use an SMS-enabled mobile phone (source: Ofcom).

Why ask your customers to put pen to paper or trawl through a lengthy email to find a link to an online survey when they can pull their phones out their pockets and tap their touchscreens to give you a one-touch response?

Time for a chat?

The average response time of 90 seconds to a text message (source: Customer Think) indicates not only that SMS is a great tool to gather instant feedback, but also a great tool to engage in conversation.

Find out more about what makes your customers tick and who they really are. Invite them to give their unfiltered, honest opinion and make sure they know you value their business. It’s an opportunity to do more of what gathers rave reviews, and a chance to respond to negative feedback so you can turn their frown, upside down.

Use SMS as an opportunity to not only find out how well you did but also push something more suited to them, based on their response. A discount on a future purchase or a similar product perhaps.

Already collecting feedback and want to do it better?

Speed is key when responding to feedback and the instant delivery of SMS is one of the main advantages of this platform. Instant delivery means instant feedback and instant feedback should enable your business to act more quickly.

77% of customers state that SMS services help them feel as though they are cared about and in control of the services that they received (source: SAP SMS Advantage report 2014). SMS Surveys help you to process feedback with improved reporting and act quickly on any negative responses.

More granular results based on location, product purchased, agent or a unique identifier of your choosing allow you to target instances of positive or negative sentiment more clearly and focus on rewarding great outcomes or implementing changes where required.

Alerts which notify selected members of your team of positive or negative responses allow you to react in real-time, while improved reporting enables businesses to see raw data in a condensed manner.

Whether your challenge is maintaining your high level of performance or retaining customers, SMS Surveys open the doors for support, customer service and marketing in any industry. Learn more or contact our team on 0345 356 5758.

month 01
day 31
year 2017

The Dos and Don’ts of SMS Marketing [infographic]

SMS messages are one of the best ways to keep your customers up to date with your latest offers and promotions, new products, exclusive deals, and much more.

We’ve put together an infographic outlining best practice in SMS marketing: content, length, timing and more.

Bookmark this and it’ll help you get consistently great results from your SMS marketing campaigns!

The dos and don'ts of SMS marketing infographic

About Esendex

Esendex is a mobile business communications provider helping thousands of customers worldwide. We offer 1-2-1 account management to help you get the best out of your marketing campaigns, and have direct network connections to all of the major networks, meaning that your messages will be delivered quickly, securely and reliably.

month 01
day 23
year 2017

Power to the people: debt collection in 2017

Debt Collection Challenges

If you’re in the debt purchasing and debt collection world, it can be hard to keep up with the cultural, technological and legislative changes that determine how you interact with customers.

As part of the Esendex financial services team, I’ve seen huge changes in the last few years: from restricting what can (and can’t) be said, controlling and enforcing voice solutions, and even enforcing how Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) policies are installed and implemented.

So, what’s in store for debt collection in 2017?

Demonstrating how we are treating customers fairly has never been more prominent.

How do you know if someone is in a debt management programme? How can you ensure the customer isn’t vulnerable before you send them a reminder?

In an ideal world, your agents shouldn’t have to worry about this, and the effect on how your overall collections strategy is implemented and enforced should be minimal.

Surprisingly the solution is relatively simple – give customers a means of engaging with you in a fair, reasonable and efficient manner.

The first (and golden) rule is: if you are going to send outbound communication to your customer – MAKE IT COUNT!

Each SMS, email or voice call should have routes to self-serve and manage accounts (ideally multiple routes) – without direct involvement from yourself or your staff.

Empower your client base, give them the means of interacting with you at a time, and on a channel, that works for them.

As a simple guide to getting the most from your investments, ensure that:

  • Your dialler is compliant
  • Your emails are mobile friendly and easy to interact with
  • Replies to your SMS messages go straight to agents on standby
  • Customers can access a mobile optimised payment page so they can make payments from their smartphone at their convenience.

Every DCA seeks to reduce internal business costs, deliver an exceptional customer experience, and build a great reputation.

With the impact of challenger banks over the last six to 12 months, improving your customer engagement cycle through the intelligent application of technology isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s essential.

The end goal?

Get your client re-engaging with the market place, transacting, and out of the position they were in – by interacting and engaging with you.

How are you making it easier to do business with yourself?

  • Do you offer free-to-reply SMS services?
  • Interactive mobile-optimised emails?
  • Local rate voice calls that go straight to the department in question rather than five minutes of navigating through painful menu systems?

Whatever it may be, don’t get left behind. This topic is highlighted for a reason – it is firmly on the FCA’s agenda for 2017 (source).

If you’re looking for expert help, get in touch.

Whether your challenge is how mobile technology can help in the collections cycle, or how 24/7 self-serve channels can help you manage internal resources for peak inbound periods – we can help. Learn more or contact the financial services team on 0345 356 5758.