Putting technology and empathy at the heart of SMB loan servicing

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By the end of March 2021, over one and a half million small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) had borrowed through the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) – amounting to a staggering £46million. This means 29 accredited BBLS lenders have thousands of new customers to service, as well as a sizable level of debt to collect.

Even when lockdowns lift, the pandemic crisis has been predicted to result in lasting damage to the UK economy. With SMB borrowers finding themselves in highly unpredictable and stressful circumstances, lenders servicing BBLS face a unique challenge – keeping large numbers of anxious customers appeased through uncertain times. To ensure healthy customer relationships, financial providers will need to focus on adequately addressing borrowers’ needs. This is where technology can help.

Creating room for empathy with AI technology

Because sensitive conversations tend to take longer, lenders are using technology solutions such as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as integrating digital channels, to support these interactions.

The latest conversational AI can now process and deliver human language more naturally, follow up on queries, and execute transactions than would otherwise need to be handled by an operator. By deploying AI, lenders can fully automate these routine transactional contacts. This frees up staff to focus on the more complex and sensitive interactions, where human touch is key.

Simplifying processes with automation

With more unique BBLS customers to service there will naturally be an increased pressure on resources. Yet recruiting and training additional staff to address this is not the most efficient or cost-effective solution. Here robotic process automation (RPA) can be used to automate repetitive time-consuming tasks.

By leveraging attended automation technologies, organisations can again lessen the burden on operators. For example, automation can be used to create clean, simplified, user-centric interfaces that pull in data from a plethora of disparate applications. These seamless, modern interfaces help agents process transactions and customer enquiries faster whilst bots deal with the complexities of logging-in and navigating various applications and screens in the backend. This approach improves customer services as well as helping to increase job satisfaction. Moreover with fewer screens to manage, onboarding and training time is also dramatically reduced.

Optimising customer communications with analytics

To deliver outstanding services, lenders need to reflect SMBs’ needs through tailored communications. Applying AI and advanced analytics to customer data can support these efforts. For instance, analysing customer attributes such as age, location and service interaction patterns enables organisations to identify and deploy personalised communication across preferred channels. Machine learning-powered forecasting algorithms can also be used to predict ebbs and flows in customer call and chat volumes numbers, helping lenders forecast resourcing needs appropriately.

Importantly, digital channels also offer a less intrusive contact approach to traditional voice calls. By using web-portals, mobile apps, emails and text, lenders can provide customers with the information they need, when they need it, using the channel they prefer. This approach reduces call volumes and lessens the burden on operatives.

Using digital to spot and reduce fraud

At the start of BBLS roll-out banks saw an onslaught of fraudulent activity through false applications and phishing, this is still the case for many financial lenders. Here AI can also play a pivotal role. AI technologies can be used to detect and prevent fraud by drawing correlation between dozens of data points such as physical location IP addresses, web and app behaviour, etc.

For example, one major UK bank saw business accounts becoming fraud targets following the BBLS rollout. To combat social engineering attempts, the bank brought in Firstsource. Following thorough data analysis, they introduced more ID checks, red flags awareness training and updated questioning to detect possible scams. This resulted in the bank being able to identify more potential victims of fraud faster – leading to a 62% reduction in fraud losses in just four months and a positive uplift in quality assurance performance.

A golden opportunity

With the UK emerging from lockdown, we can hope that the economic outlook is about to improve for the SMB community. However, when it comes to BBLS repayments, these customers will still need empathy and guidance from lenders as they navigate the return to ‘normality’. By using tech to remove pressure from customer services, free up agents and drive strategic engagement, lenders will advance customer satisfaction and increase potential growth.

This article is written by Luis Huerta, Vice President and Intelligent Automation Practice Head, Europe at Firstsource and was originally published in Finance Derivative.

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