Globally speaking, the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered a distinctive shift in the way people socialize, travel, and conduct business. In the immediate sense for the process service industry, the need to conduct a serve in person was hindered by social distancing measures. While many unprecedented uncertainties remain in the United States, economic ambiguity is steadfast, making it difficult for anyone to predict when, or how quickly, the economy will begin to recover. As a result, U.S. consumers are engaging differently with their debts.
Provided the furloughs, mass layoffs, subsequent economic downturn, there’s no surprise that Americans have started spending less and saving more. As the world settles into a “new normal,” experts in the industry suggest those involved in collecting debt should be prepared for unpredictable payments based on the ever-evolving economic situation.
It’s important for people in our industry to work backward and become familiar with how consumer and borrower behavior may be shifting as a result of this pandemic - and how they ultimately end up being served. By understanding how behaviors change, we can develop a more empathic, understanding method for our serves.
Here are three ways experts anticipate the debt collection industry is shifting in a post-pandemic world:
1. Debt collectors are training and preparing staff for contextual awareness
Given today’s economic climate, debt collectors are focusing on nurturing relationships with their consumers, even before they start paying. By taking an approach to these communications, it lends itself toward being more contextually aware and helping to develop better relationships.
In times of tremendous financial adversity, like this COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining customer relationships across the debt collection process is key, especially with relevant non-account related conversations. Much like during a serve process, the best way to connect with a debtor is all about tone and timing—not increased frequency of communications.
When consumers are in a state of extreme financial stress, debt collectors and process servers alike have an opportunity to let them know that collectively, you have the same objective: To aid in their journey to get them out of debt.
Payments will inevitably be inconsistent throughout the remainder of this pandemic for many consumers, especially as individuals receive intermittent governmental aid. As businesses start to bring back their furloughed employees, spikes in payment activity could start to rise as well.
2. Debt collectors are outlining flexible options
Consumers are looking for the flexibility to pay when they can, if they can. This may mean scheduling payments to align with their pay schedule or needing help to adjust a plan to accommodate unpredictable income fluctuation.
As the past few months during this pandemic have indicated, borrowers want to feel confident they have flexibility with their payments during times of economic adversity and ambiguity. This could include modifications such as payment deferrals, extensions of repayment terms, or other insignificant delays in payment.
These adjustments could cause minor strain on short-term liquidation efforts, but over time, consumers tend to pay off the debts they feel are most manageable first. Giving consumers the flexibility to plan payments around their cash flow is not only better for customer experience, but also minimizes the risk of a failed payment due to insufficient funds and leads to lower plan breakage rates.
3. Debt collectors are looking to detail self-service options
Consumers generally take care of their financial obligations without ever talking to a human, so automation at this stage is helpful. Hopping online to interact with self-service tools with financial institutions are progressively becoming the norm, so why should interacting with debt collectors be any different?
Many debt collectors are working to configure a payment portal for borrowers so they can make a payment without having to speak with a representative. Self-service tools also mean that consumers can choose to pay whenever it’s convenient for them, not just during business hours. Digital tools should empower consumers to:
- Defer a payment
- Adjust the length and installment amount on their payment plan
- Dispute all or a portion of their debt
- Enter bankruptcy information
- Apply for a hardship pause on their debt
What does this mean for the process service industry?
Today’s debt future is nothing short of uncertain for consumers, debt collectors, and process servers alike. Debt levels will continue to rise and consumers will undoubtedly need help. And as debt collection efforts ebb and flow, it's important to know those behavior shifts so process service professionals can anticipate the best course of communication at the time of a serve.
Debt collectors are adapting to today’s changing market and outline an operating model that allows consumers to pay when they want to. The engagement and payment trends we’ve encountered during this pandemic indicate that debt collectors, when they appropriately train staff to provide context conscious communication, provide flexible payment options, and introduce self-service options. This parallel of empathy can also succeed during a serve.
Dave Rolf is CEO of Tag Process Service, Inc.. Founded in February 1999, the company has is a leader in process service, court filings, and private investigations for the debt collection industry. We currently serve Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, California, Utah and Washington with expansion plans that correlate with our client’s growth.