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Symend Survey: More Than Half of Americans Feel They’ve Been Tricked By Unsympathetic Bill Collectors

Symend Survey Unsympathetic Bill Collectors

Leader in Customer Engagement and Debt Recovery Explores Consumer Experiences and Attitudes Associated With Bill Payment


CALGARY, Alberta — Sept. 23, 2020 — Symend, the leading science-driven engagement technology that transforms the way enterprises recover payments from customers, today announced results of a survey of more than 1,000 American consumers about their experiences with debt collection, as well as attitudes around bill payments. Notably, 52% say they have felt tricked or deceived by a bill collector, and 42% of Americans have received a collections communication by mistake.

Over half of Americans (51%) have been late to pay a bill, because they lack the money (56%) or because they have forgotten about the bill (39%). Some 29% of Americans have had late payments or collections activity negatively impact their credit score. The three aspects of the debt collections process that consumers are most troubled by are:

  • Debt collectors are not sympathetic to my situation – 39%
  • Debt collectors are annoying/contact me too much – 38%
  • Debt collectors are rude – 37%

Some 76% of Americans say they would be more willing to pay off their debt if they worked with a friendly debt collector, and an equal number (76%) would be more willing if the debt collections process was personalized.

Symend addresses today’s unmet need for more personalized, empathetic and humane debt recovery by enabling service providers and financial institutions to engage with past-due customers in a different way. The company’s Behavioral Engagement Technology™ leverages behavioral science-based principles and communication techniques designed to engage with and help end-user consumers get up to date on their bills and avoid the collections process, while empowering Symend clients to achieve increased customer retention rates.

“This survey data confirms that positive engagement is crucial at every stage of the customer journey – including debt repayment,” said Hanif Joshaghani, Co-Founder and CEO of Symend. “Using scientifically validated tactics, we have proven that customers are much more likely to settle their past-due accounts and engage more if the experience is empathetic and personalized. Our goal is to help consumers avoid the collections process altogether through proactive resolution.”

Overly Persistent, Dubious Collection Actions

When it comes to collections and recovery, many consumers have been on the receiving end of overly persistent and highly dubious legacy collection tactics, including attempts by bill collectors to deceive, frighten or intimidate. According to the survey, bill collectors’ most common tactic (48%) is contacting consumers under false pretenses in order to get them to engage in a collection-related conversation. Some 28% say that bill collectors have contacted friends and/or family in order to reach a specific debtor. In addition, 28% say they have been wrongfully told there would be no effect on their credit score. Bill collectors most commonly leave threatening phone messages (53%), and 39% of respondents say they have been “yelled at,” while 41% indicated they have been threatened by collectors.

Overall, Americans find the following debt collection practices to be the most unacceptable:

  • Threats – 64%
  • Contacting my friends and/or family – 58%
  • Daily phone calls – 58%

Some 39% of Americans say they are contacted by collectors once a year – or even less often. But 14% of consumers report being contacted daily, and 16% say they are contacted a few times per week. Leading methods of late payment and collections contact include phone calls (66%), letters (51%) and via e-mail (36%), while some 18% of Americans have either received an in-person visit or have been contacted through social media.

Receiving collection emails, texts and postal mail can have a negative psychological impact on consumers. Some 58% of Americans have screened calls from a bill collector, and they are split equally when it comes to answering calls, texts or emails from bill collectors, with 30% reporting they always answer, and 30% say they never answer. The remaining 40% say they sometimes answer. Some 43% say collections are upsetting and put them in a bad mood, and 23% say it makes them want to stay home, while only 30% say collections don’t bother them.

Once consumers are in the collections cycle, it can become difficult to get out. For those who received collection communications by mistake, resolution times can range from a few days (48%) to years (7%).

Consumer Preferences and Protecting the Brand During Recovery

Consumers also expressed a preference about how to arrange payments to creditors when they fall behind, as well as timing, including how and when they would like to be contacted by creditors. They also expressed preferences for particular types of bill payment methods, and, importantly, customers also emphasized their desire to work with creditors to become current when given an adequate amount of time.

Some 61% said they would like the option to defer a late bill payment. The most likely way to get people to pay a delinquent bill is to offer a payment plan (57%). The amount of time that consumers need to pay a past due bill also varies, with 18% saying a few days to one week (16%), 18% saying several months, and 9% saying over one year. More than half (55%) of consumers prefer to pay bills online, while 22% still prefer to pay bills through the mail, and 18% note in-person bill payment as their first choice.

“Legacy tactics for collecting past-due payments from customers can be extremely damaging to a brand,” said Tiffany Kaminsky, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Symend. “Our data shows that taking a segmented approach to digital customer outreach leaves customers feeling valued and understood. By empowering customers through understanding, their relationship with the brand not only remains intact, it grows.”

About the Survey

Conducted by Propeller Insights on behalf of Symend during August 2020, the online survey polled more than 1,000 American consumers between the ages of 18 and 75 years old.

About Symend

Symend is scientifically transforming the debt recovery industry by treating individuals with empathy and dignity at the time they need it most. Combining behavioral science with advanced AI, machine learning and advanced analytics, Symend’s engagement technology enables companies to develop customer engagement programs that support the engagement and retention of customers that are financially at-risk to create lifetime value. Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Calgary, with offices in Toronto and Denver, Symend is privately held. For more information, please visit https://symend.com/ or follow the company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Hannah Ruark