This article is part of the iA Think Differently series. Written by members of the iA Innovation Council, the series showcases thought leadership in analytics, communications, payments, and compliance technology for the accounts receivable management industry.
Most collection agency compliance departments listen to and analyze thousands of calls each year. This makes compliance professionals uniquely positioned to identify trends and patterns and to raise the flag when they identify something interesting. Case in point, a little while back I was speaking with our compliance manager about call blocking and labeling technology. The conversation pivoted to a trend our compliance department was seeing where a collector would get stuck in a nonsensical conversation with a bot recording. The collector doesn’t realize they are interacting with a bot, which often makes the calls kind of comical. Intrigued, I had to investigate this issue.
Bots are designed to waste the caller's time
Here’s the skinny – there are applications, websites, and/or services a consumer can subscribe to that allow a bot to answer their phones (i.e., bot answering services). These bots play recordings which are programmed to make the caller believe they are speaking with a real person. Essentially, a pre-recorded voice carries on a conversation with the caller and the programming is sophisticated enough to convince the caller that they are speaking with a real person. Bot answering services are designed to waste a caller’s time, make the caller frustrated or uncomfortable, and essentially make the caller give-up. They are also designed to let the consumer have a little fun with telemarketers, collectors, or others who are not on the consumer’s whitelist. Usually, the consumer can retrieve the call recording so they can listen to it later and laugh at the caller who was fooled into thinking they were speaking with a real person.
I’ve studied multiple bot calls, and the recordings run the gamut. Some are silly – for instance, I listened to one bot that was programmed to sound like and impersonate President Trump. Some bot conversation plots make you feel like you’re listening to a soap opera unfold in the background – for instance, I listened to one call where the person answering the phone has an entire conversation with his girlfriend’s husband (who presumably caught the couple having an affair) while keeping the caller on the phone during the whole ordeal. Some bot conversation plots are downright sad – such as making the caller believe they are speaking with an elderly man who is reminiscing about his children and his life. Some of the bot conversation plots are pretty effective!
These telltale signs may suggest you've got a bot on your hands
- The conversation is non-sensical (and if you stay on the line long enough, sometimes the recording even loops to the very beginning and starts over).
- The person answering the phone is overly talkative, which allows them to take control of the conversation.
- The person answering the phone often speaks over the caller and/or ignores what the caller is saying.
- The person answering the phone asks the caller a lot of questions that have nothing to do with what the caller is calling about.
- The person answering the phone does not answer open-ended questions. They can only answer yes/no type of questions, and usually their answers are short and vague, such as “yes,” “uh-huh,” “okay,” “hmmm,” “sure,” “yeah,” or even grunts in order to trick the caller into thinking they are speaking with a real person.
- They keep the caller on the line, sometimes asking the caller to “hang on” while they start talking to someone else in the background.
- They seem distracted or say they can’t hear or understand the caller and often ask the caller to repeat themselves or to start over after they were interrupted.
So, what can you do about bots?
The first step is awareness. If you ever find yourself engaged in a nonsensical conversation with a consumer and you suspect you’re talking with a bot recording, here are tips for navigating the call:
- Ask open-ended questions. An open-ended question cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” response. Open-ended questions require a customized, more thoughtful response. For example, ask the person to provide their address (this invokes an open-ended response), instead of providing an address and asking a person if it is correct (which invokes a closed-ended response of “yes” or “no”). Another example of an open-ended question could be “what better time can I call you back at?” This kind of question invokes an open-ended response since it cannot be answered by a “yes” or “no” type of response.
- Remain professional. Remember, these calls are usually being recorded and can easily be posted to YouTube, for example. In fact, I was able to study a lot of bot calls through YouTube because consumers and bot answering services post them there with great pride.
- End the call. If a person refuses to answer your questions, is being uncooperative, or is simply wasting your time, end the call in a professional manner and document your experience in your system of record.
Add bot answering services to the list of reasons why it is more challenging than ever before to communicate with consumers over the telephone. As we look for ways to innovate and better communicate with consumers through their communication channels of choice, remember that we also need to stay alert to the evolving tools available to consumers.
About the iA Innovation Council
The iA Innovation Council is a collaborative working group of product, tech, strategy, and operations thought leaders at the forefront of analytics, communications, payments, and compliance technology. Group members meet in person several times each year to engage in substantive dialogue and whiteboard sessions with the creative thinkers behind the latest innovations for the industry, the regulators who audit and establish guardrails for new technology, and educators, entrepreneurs and innovators from outside the industry who inspire different thinking.
2020 members include:
Absolute Resolutions Corp.
AllianceOne Receivables Management
Capital Collection Management
Crown Asset Management
Enhanced Recovery Company
Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group
NCB Management Services
Phillips & Cohen
Professional Finance Company
Radius Global Solutions
Spring Oaks Capital
State Collection Service
The CMI Group