Long reads

Why empathy will be what defines the success of BBLS and CBILS lenders

Siddharth Parashar

Siddharth Parashar

Chief Revenue Officer, CRM, Firstsource

The rollout of UK Covid loans will continue into 2021, presenting both challenges and opportunities for banks. For lenders the challenge has shifted beyond processing loans – it lies in handling ongoing customer relationships and managing loans effectively in the coming year. There is a requirement to focus on customer care as many of the borrowers are individuals trying to keep their business afloat. Handled appropriately, with empathy at the core, these accounts present opportunities for lenders to build positive, long-standing customer relationships. 

The pandemic has seen many sectors lose customers and cut jobs. The UK Government has stepped in to help businesses, such as those in the hospitality sector – which has seen in excess of 800,000 job losses. The support was presented through a roll-out of Bounce Bank Loan Scheme (BBLS) and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) offered by financial services organisations. To access these loans many businesses needed to sign up with new lenders, meaning financial service providers needed to process, vet and service thousands of new customers at speed and scale.  

Now lenders are facing a new challenge, managing the vast numbers of complicated customer accounts. With business owners under pressure, knowing how to handle conversations around repayments can feel like walking a tightrope. However, this need not be the case. By adopting a people-first approach, backed by digital technology, businesses can assess the best time to interact with a customer and provide an empathetic approach throughout the entire process. 

Understanding the CBILS and BBLS challenges  

Initially, the biggest challenge was processing the numerous applications for UK COVID loans. To date over £60 billion has been issued through BBLS and CBILS, with many businesses still securing funding. This saw banks overwhelmed by applications; one lender saw webchat interactions increased by nearly 50 per cent, and call volumes rose by 25 per cent since the schemes were announced. 

With the deadline for UK COVID loans extended until 31st March, the pressure to process applications will be exacerbated. Additionally, the government has predicted between a 35 to 60 percent default rate on these. Meaning lenders will have to navigate sensitive conversations around fraud and default at an unprecedented scale. This is where empathy comes in.

An empathetic approach to account management

Applications for CBILS or BBLS loans are different from typical business loans. Many applicants are seeking to safeguard their livelihood in the face of unforeseen events with unpredictable consequences - it is clear that factoring this emotional burden into customer services is critical. Thus, the real challenge for lenders is putting empathy at the centre, and doing this at scale. 

Empathy is key during loan application and the ongoing account servicing. The first step is ensuring that customer-facing teams are prepared to handle sensitive conversations, spotting and supporting vulnerable individuals. This may require additional training such as sessions on empathic listening. Lenders with a human-centric approach are more likely to secure repeat business and minimise the risk of a negative impact on brand reputation.

By their nature, sensitive conversations take more time. Freeing up agents to handle these by reducing call volumes will increase a lender's ability to provide a human approach where it is needed most. Smart technologies can help streamline call volumes. Integrating digital channels, such as chatbots and email, is a quick way to automate the handling of common, easily solvable queries whilst still providing the necessary support to customers. 

Many of the digital channels are now sophisticated enough to integrate human language, including positive phrases such as ‘I’m here to help’, or checking whether a customers’ query has been solved. This means customers receive a personal touch as well as time-efficient service. But, most importantly, implementing digital technology reduces call volumes, freeing up agents to tackle the more difficult and delicate conversations with empathy. 

Technology as a support structure for irreplaceable human interaction

Unlike other loans, the circumstances of BBLS and CBILS can change dramatically in an instant. The unpredictability of the pandemic means that the government can announce new rules on these unexpectedly, forcing lenders to pivot fast. Those issuing CBILS and BBLS have already found themselves needing to make swift adjustments to systems and processes. 

CBILS and BBLS customers also represent a different, and much wider, demographic than usual business loan customers. Having an approach that allows lenders to be agile and deal with unique profiles and their preferences at scale is key, one size will not fit all. Here agility means more than ‘being able to pivot’ it means quickly responding to trends and patterns emerging from customer interactions. Deploying AI and analytics play a big role here – enabling lenders to proactively understand and adapt to customer behaviour. 

AI and analytics tools can forecast both customer call and chat numbers, while also identifying the best approach to contact borrowers. Lenders can utilise this technology to manage the ebbs and flows of customer service volumes, reacting quickly to demand. Importantly, all of this can be done while maintaining essential human interactions by funnelling more complex enquiries to the customer service agents.

Meeting the unique challenge of BBLS and CBILS

Many BBLS and CBILS borrowers are in a position they don’t want to be in. With sensitivities running high it is easy for lenders to alienate these customers with poor servicing. However, financial institutions stand to turn this challenge into an opportunity by finding opportunities to improve customer services. For many, this will mean upgrading the systems and processes as well as providing valuable staff training. 

Serviced well, these accounts can be converted into valuable long-term customers. With a holistic approach to empathy, from direct contact through to the technology, lenders have an opportunity to really support customers through these tough times. In return securing stronger customer relationships.

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