Deploying digital starts with great conversational design

The industry needs to consider how to build true digital customer conversations, rather than simply having different interactions

By Mark Oppermann, Head of sales and Mmarketing, Webio

The most important part of the digital implementation journey is knowing what job needs to be done. What are the business goals for adding digital customer engagement? Too many times I have met potential clients who say: “we need to engage with customers as we just want to be relevant”.

There can be an external or internal pressure to tick the box called “innovation”, but ultimately you need a clear business goal and understanding of what success looks like. This will keep you on the straight and narrow and will be the reference point to which progress and performance can be measured.

Great customer conversations do not just happen

Imagine what the digital customer engagement journey looks like and think of it as a conversation. It should never be just an interaction; it needs to always be a conversation, a meaningful and valuable two-way communication.

If we strip it back to basics, think about an exchange with a person, if it is a mundane back and forth interaction, it is not a great experience. Adding a conversational element, which is where the technology comes in, leads to a much better customer experience, typically delivering a better result for both parties.

For example, take a simple transaction at a retail store check-out, if there is no engagement with the staff member, then that is a mundane forgettable experience. Add in some chat and engagement, and that mundane interaction can become a memorable experience if the conversation is valuable to the customer, think about “how can I add value to customer conversations”.

So, exactly the same methodology needs to apply when designing collection conversations, mapping out the words, the tone, and the tempo. When seeing the whole conversation mapped out in such detail, it is easy to question and ask “are we over-promising and under-delivering” or “under-promising and over-delivering” but it is just about selecting a sensible metric and understanding how to move it that is important.

Small steps and iterations along the way of your implementation journey win every time over super complex from the start.

Digital collections need digital metrics

Using the correct success measures is crucial. In many cases, the metrics being used are sometimes completely incompatible with what is trying to be achieved from a digital perspective. Companies shoehorning something new into ‘the way we’ve always’ measured things, can severely handicap the new process and engagement strategy.

We have had this many a time where people will say: “Oh well, the performance metrics are this”, but now there is a need to measure things completely differently with digital, and that is a challenge for a lot of companies. A common example here is using dialler metrics for digital conversations, which is not the way to get a true understanding of the value delivered.

Current business metrics usually have been developed and fine-tuned year on year, so it can be incredibly difficult to change or move them, particularly as employee bonuses and other performance indicators can be based around these measurements. So that is a real challenge and is one of the inhibitors to acceleration.

Those companies that have transitioned into digital and it is working well, now face the next hurdle of needing to move from a small proof of concept project to scaling right across the business. Many have done a lot of small innovations but have kept it in a side room and have not embraced the challenge to bring it full scale right across the business. You need to embrace it, accept it and be ready for the challenges that scaling brings!

Digital engagement will not be right for every customer

Technology, automation, and chatbot engagement will not be right for every customer, so how do you manage those customers that do not always want to go down the digital route every time? The answer is simple, give them an alternative. By building strong exception management into the conversational design, you can do exactly that. Because at some stage a customer will want to talk to an agent, and that is ok. It is a fact that the telephone is not dead, and it does give some people a higher level of comfort that they have spoken with a person, which is essential in some instances.

So, how do you manage these exceptions? Do you transfer straight to an agent or do you offer something more conversational, like an additional chatbot step or FAQs before the agent handoff? There are cases where some companies want to always bring the agent into the conversation earlier in the first phase of implementation because they want the reassurance that the conversational self-service capabilities that they are using, are doing what they want them to do and are giving a great customer experience. Once this assurance is achieved the best practice advice here is to add automation, as it is easier with digital, but do this by numerous iterations, reassurance, next step, reassurance, next step, and on from there.

All you are trying to do is make sure the right investment in technology is happening, and you are using that technology resource well, but also using your agent resource to the best effect. This process done well can move your agents’ daily output to numbers you never thought possible, I have seen clients’ agents closing well over 300 successful conversations daily when digital and automation are in sync, this is where our clients are seeing the scalability potential.

A good maxim here can be to resist the temptation to jump in at the deep end and think you can swim, start at the shallow end and swim down towards the deep end. You are going to have a much higher comfort level doing it that way and longer-term ongoing success.

Get talking to those who are already doing it

By engaging with your technology partner, you can get talking with their customers to find out what metrics they have used, the easy wins to take and pitfalls to avoid. You should insist on having reference calls with their customer base who have made the switch to digital and are further down the road on their journey. These conversations will give incredible insights into how these companies managed and measured successful customer engagement campaigns.

Getting the balance right

With a lot of technology, it is not going to be a 100% fit to the business every time. It may be 95%, it may only be 90% fit. And that extra 5% and 10% come from the knowledge that you have to add about your specific business. This addition is your secret sauce delivering something very specific to you and your business.

When you blend that specific business knowledge into the right type of technology, then you are optimising both the technology and business requirements – business culture, client requirements, customer socioeconomic profiles, and all these other things that must be taken into account. So, it is really important to take an iterative approach, building up to something over a period of time. Again, do not try to automate everything straight away.

Transitioning customers to digital engagement

How is the business going to communicate with customers that digital engagement is now part of the offering? It is really important to ensure that on go live with the first digital messaging campaign it lands correctly with customers and gains the right level of traction and the right level of customer comfort.

So, thinking about how to advertise and inform customers, needs some thought and planning. We have seen so many adverts about phishing and scamming, and the pandemic has breathed life back into scammers. So, there is a need to get the message out to say that this is real, and this is something that customers can trust. One of the things we have seen work well over the past 24 months was adding a WhatsApp widget to the website, which delivers a huge amount of inbound engagement and really good conversations.

Learning as you go is the key to success

It can be useful to do small pilots and small engagement tests. These tests are going to give a better understanding of what customers like, respond to, and how they react. These early campaigns are an amazing learning chance to get to know your customers better, improve campaigns, and get valuable insights. Many times we have seen a business start with loads of planning and the best intentions, but even from day one there are improvements to be made, embrace this as it is not a negative.

Some things will be learned even from the words that are used in any message going out to a customer. Sometimes it is the smallest things that will identify important patterns of behaviour, both positive and negative.

That ability to modify quickly and often should be a key requirement for any project and even more importantly this should be a key requirement for you when selecting a technology partner that they deliver these modifications at no additional cost. That really should be the basis of any implementation in the first phase, simply because there are going to be a lot of moving parts and different stuff coming at you.

Customers are not going to react in exactly the way that the engagement was designed for, so there is a degree of flexibility, nimbleness and speed required to make adjustments to the conversation text, campaign timings, levels of automation etc.

This iterative process is a must and should be built into your requirements when choosing the right type of right technology partner. Maximising your digital offering and moving it from maybe dealing with 5% of customers to 10% to 20%, to 30% to 40% relies upon 100% continuous improvement. Your automation adoption should follow this type of approach.

In short, it is critical to make it easy for customers to engage with the business. Make it a good experience and they will come back every time. If you can deliver your service over digital and enable customers to do what they want to do, then you are onto a winner.


  • It is important to get the balance right between what collections businesses and teams do today and how you introduce and implement digital.
  • Some companies move too quickly and therefore treat all customers the same. A one-size fits all approach, as with anything, is not going to deliver the outcomes that the business wants.
  • So, how do you go digital in a manner that works for the business and customers?
  • With clever deployment, start slowly and gradually gain momentum.