Debt collectors are seeing a rise in bots used by consumers that are designed to waste a phone agent’s time. It’s not surprising that technology like this has evolved considering the illegal robocalls that plague us all. (Editor’s Note: Just yesterday, I received repeated calls from my own phone number where an automated voice informed me that my software license from a well-known company was about to expire.) Illegal robocalls are frustrating, so it’s a natural tendency to want to frustrate these callers right back.

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The problem is that these time-wasting apps are being used on more than just illegal robocallers who are trying to scam consumers—they are being used against legitimate businesses that are trying to reach their customers, such as debt collectors.

How Time-Wasting Apps Work

This varies from app to app, but generally the app will allow the consumer to pass the call to an automated bot. The bot is designed to ask an endless cycle of somewhat relevant, extremely vague questions to keep the caller engaged, but ultimately the call goes nowhere.

Take, for example, Jolly Roger. According to its website, it has been featured on many large media outlets. Jolly Roger advises its users to answer calls and dial its bots into a three-way conference call. Jolly Roger's bots will then take over the conversation. What ensues is a lot of wasted time as the agent tries to maintain a conversation with someone (or, more apporpriately, something) they think is the consumer.

While this is all fun and games when used against illegal robocallers, it frustrates a legitimate call center’s business. Debt collectors have a tough job as it is; these apps make their job even harder by wasting their valuable time.

Awareness is Key

The first step toward a solution is awareness. Businesses can’t address an issue if they don't know it exists.

One way to remain aware of issues such as this is to stay plugged into the industry. insideARM offers peer calls through the iA Research Assistant, where you can candidly discuss questions among a group of industry colleagues on a monthly basis. These conversations are moderated by iA’s own Mike Bevel, and handcrafted to meet the specific needs of participants. Another great tool is insideARM’s ARM Insider newsletter, which provides in-depth analysis on industry news straight to your inbox.

It's also important to listen to the agents, especially seasoned ones. They are the boots-on-the-ground and are usually the first to notice when a new trend is occuring.

Train Your Agents

Debt collectors are no strangers to baited calls, where the caller—usually accompanied by his or her attorney—attempts to trick the agent into a violation of the many laws and regulations that govern the industry. Just as debt collection agencies have trained their agents to spot and appropriately respond to baited calls, the same strategy should be used for these time-wasting apps.

One way to train agents to spot these calls is to demonstrate how these apps work and play examples of recordings so the agents can hear what these calls sound like. Jolly Roger’s website has a library of recordings. Other apps likely have something similar. If not, samples could probably be found online through a quick online search.

In one way, dealing with time-wasting apps is easier than dealing with baited calls because there is little risk to hanging up on a bot. However, since these bots are designed to sound like real people, it’s vital that the agent is certain he is hanging up on a bot rather than the actual consumer.

Seasoned agents are generally better at spotting these things. They’ve placed so many calls that it is more readily apparent to them when something feels “off.” Newer agents might have more difficulty, so ensuring that they get an appropriate level of training is important.

AI is Already Here

Artificial intelligence (AI) for the debt collection industry is already here and being deployed in many ways to help businesses run more efficiently. iA’s Innovation Council is working towards finding innovative solutions to challenges faced by the industry. In an ideal world, an AI solution to the time-wasting app issue is best. A machine would likely detect another machine much faster than a human would, especially if the machine is designed to listen for the specific scripts and recordings used by these bots.

Conclusion

In a call center environment, an agent’s time is important and valuable. Time wasted on one of these apps might not be earth-shattering, but it does cause a large enough inconvenience and disruption to make it an important issue to address.


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