How Sigma Connected is supporting vulnerable customers in Australia who are hard to reach? A Q&A with Sarah Henry
ReachOut is a completely unique customer contact service created by Sigma Connected. The name describes the service perfectly, our clients ask us to ‘reach out’ to customers who are in arrears with their payments and who they are struggling to engage with.
As an independent third party we get a much higher engagement rate and can work with the customer to reconnect them with their supplier.
In this Q & A we meet Sarah Henry, one of the people behind the concept of the service, to find out how ReachOut really benefits customers.
Q. Why did Sigma Connected create the ReachOut service for Australia?
Sarah responds: It’s certainly no secret that millions of consumers across Australia are facing challenges at present with increasing food bills, energy prices, rising inflation and ongoing hikes in mortgage interest rates. Often when customers can’t pay a bill, for whatever reason, it becomes exceptionally difficult for their supplier/creditor to engage with them. We created ReachOut to bridge the gap between the customer and our clients.
Q. So how does ReachOut help?
Sarah responds: When our clients are unable to contact customers with debts, they ask us to reach out to them with our offer of support. As a confidential and impartial service – one that isn’t there to (and can’t) collect debt – our supportive and empathetic Pathfinders can speak with people where creditors can’t.
Creating a safe environment for customers means our Pathfinders can explore reasons for non-payment and understand the challenges faced by customers.
Pathfinders then guide these customers to whichever charities are best placed to help them through their specific crisis or to improve their financial, mental or physical wellbeing. They also explain the support our clients can offer, giving people reasons to re-engage to find solutions to their debt.
This personal approach to understanding the true root cause of their problems builds trust, helps people better manage debts and improves outcomes for all parties.
I talk about this a lot, but I truly feel there is a way to do things differently for those not engaging with their supplier. If we can understand their circumstances, we can help them to help themselves.
Q. Who are the Pathfinders?
Sarah responds: Our Pathfinders are amazing and they are one of the key reasons ReachOut has so much engagement success. They are a group of committed, empathetic individuals who are specially trained to have testing conversations with people, which may include those who are having a mental health crisis.
They work with clients on their specific campaigns and call customers as ReachOut. It is an entirely separate service within Sigma Connected so our Pathfinders have the space and distance to have confidential discussions.
Q. How do clients integrate ReachOut into their operations?
Sarah responds: ReachOut is designed so that it can slot seamlessly anywhere into our clients’ collections strategy, at the point our clients believe it would give the best outcome. This is usually before any external debt collection activity takes place. It is part of our overall collections ecosystem which provides clients with an end-to-end collections service. However, some clients choose to use ReachOut to complement their existing collections activity whilst others outsource the whole cycle to us.
Getting started is easy. It typically kicks off with a two-week campaign. The client will send us a file of names and accounts for us to contact and we will first ReachOut to them with a letter, either via cloud or traditional mailing. We will then call the customer and discuss their situation with them.
Once that two-week campaign is concluded, we place a huge importance on reporting back to the client on the positive outcomes and engagements.
Q. And what about the charities involved in ReachOut. How deep are our relationships with them and how are those developed?
Sarah responds: We have two strategic partnerships and those are with debt charity Step Change and with AgilityEco, a fuel poverty organisation. Our relationships with them are stronger than ever and the warm transfer arrangements we have with them has been an undoubted success.
The other charities we signpost people to are really varied – including, MIND, the Money Advice Trust, Samaritans, WAY Widowed and Young, and even GambleAware. They are charities where people can get specific help, depending on their circumstances.
Q. What would you say to a company who is seriously looking at ReachOut as an option for their customers?
Sarah responds: The results speak for themselves. The first two weeks of one campaign saw a 27% engagement rate, increasing to 50% over the following weeks. We have the data to prove the concept works, and it gives clients the chance to show their industry regulator that they are prepared to do things differently in terms of supporting vulnerable customers.
So my message to those who are thinking about ReachOut is let’s have a conversation, give us a small sample of your accounts to work from, and we will report back on what we have achieved. I think you’ll be surprised.
Q. And finally, what does the future look like for ReachOut?
Sarah responds: The future looks really positive for the ReachOut service and the customers that it helps. We are broadening the reach of the product into other sectors especially local government and housing associations.
Our plan is to continue building on the service we are offering so that we can reach many more customers who need our help. We have developed a clear roadmap of improvements and enhancements to the service. We would also love to sign up more strategic partners in our charity and advisory armoury so that customers can have a fluid transition from our service to the expertise they require.