Interview with Philip Boland, Debt Collection Agency Manager at T-Mobile

Cwize and the feedback from our collection partners will teach us a great deal.”Philip Boland, Debt Collection Agency Manager at T-Mobile

T-Mobile has some 5.6 million telecom customers in the Netherlands, a small percentage of whom will fail to pay their phone bill at some point. In the vast majority of such cases, the company contacts the non-paying customer directly and a solution is quickly found. The remaining cases, however, may require contracting a collection agency. From May 2020, T-Mobile has been distributing its collection cases among its collection partners via the SaaS solution from Collenda Cwize Performance Management. Via the same platform, Cwize collects simple reports on the collection results which T-Mobile can then apply to establish objective benchmarks. The company now plans to expand this implementation to all T-Mobile brands and segments.

Within T-Mobile, information regarding the separate brands (T-Mobile, Tele2 and Ben) and customer groups (business and consumer, mobile and fixed) is stored in separate systems as well. To ensure unified data delivery to Cwize, T-Mobile used Automation Anywhere to develop its own robot to retrieve the necessary information from the various internal systems and then deliver that data to the platform in XML format.

Long-term consultant

The person responsible for implementing Cwize Performance Management at T-Mobile is Philip Boland, who has managed the company’s Debt Collection Agency – part of its Billing & Collection department – since September 2019. Boland, who studied criminal law in Leiden, has spent the past twenty years building a career in credit management. It started with a part-time holiday job in the Accounts Receivable department at Heineken, but after an internal training programme, he transitioned to the Special Credit Management department. Between that first job and his current appointment at T-Mobile, he has held a range of credit-management-related positions at diverse organisations including LeasePlan, Cannock Chase, Pensioenfonds Horeca & Catering, Thomas Cook and Basic Fit. “Think of me as a long-term consultant who holds a permanent position within the company,” Boland says. “I’m not interested in doing a three-month gig somewhere, giving an elaborate presentation and then leaving. I usually stay with an organisation for three to five years – after which point most of the progress has been made. If you’re looking for someone to ‘mind the shop’, I’m not your guy. There has to be something I can sink my teeth into, preferably in an environment filled with enthusiastic people who are ready to embrace real change.”

Overarching policy

Boland found such an opportunity at T-Mobile, where he acts as the chief point of contact for collection partners for all three brands and all customer groups within those brands. The timing of his start with the new employer in 2019 had a lot to do with the merger between T-Mobile and Tele2, which had begun earlier that year. Up until that point, each brand had been responsible for its own credit management and relationships with the collection partners, which resulted in fragmentation. “That’s all changed now. We’ve developed an overarching policy framework – which is uniform for all aspects of all parties – but within that, at the detail level, we take a more personally-tailored approach to each brand and customer segment. Our criterion is that our company must have tried to contact every customer with an overdue payment at least a certain number of times before that customer’s case is handed over to a collection partner.” That, Boland explains, is “not only the policy and chosen approach at T-Mobile”, but also in keeping with the duty-of-care policy of the AFM and ACM, which states that T-Mobile must be able to demonstrate that it has done everything possible to get the customer back on track and avoid unnecessary recovery costs.

No sitting still

Philip Boland, Debt Collection Agency Manager at T-Mobile

After twenty years in credit management, Boland’s enthusiasm for his field remains undimmed. “Especially when the underlying principle of your job is helping people get out of financial trouble. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last twenty years, it’s that you can’t sit still for a moment. I’ve been known to compare credit management to playing an instrument: if you want to get better, you have to keep practising. And you have people who can perform an existing song and people who are able to write songs of their own. Personally, I much prefer the latter.”

Fastest, first and best

T-Mobile responded positively to Boland’s suggestion to switch to Cwize Performance Management because the telecom provider is itself a company with a strong drive towards IT. “Here, we understand the importance of embracing automation in order to improve your business. T-Mobile consistently strives to be the fastest, the first and the best. I’ve never heard anyone at this company utter the phrase ‘this is just the way things are done around here’. I’m receiving a lot of support from the organisation, in part because our business case isn’t just about money but about customer experience and retention as well. It would be impossible to overstate the importance of IT. At one of my previous employers, for instance, our system was so outdated that it took us at least two months to input certain data. It took our competitors less than 48 hours to do the same thing. You can’t overcome that kind of deficit. There are plenty of companies around that are so far behind that they have what’s known as technical debt. While that debt may not appear on the balance sheet, it’s still there and it can make or break an organisation.”

Strong interest in tender

As part of its new approach to debt collection, T-Mobile issued a tender invitation to collection agencies. One important precondition was that bidders align their operations to the Cwize platform. Interest in the tender was quite strong, resulting in twenty-five serious candidates. Ultimately, five parties were selected for interviews, three of whom made it across the finish line: Faircasso, Flanderijn and Vesting Finance. Together with existing collection partners Bos Incasso and DirectPay, this means there are now five agencies that use Cwize to manage collection cases for T-Mobile.

“But this number will increase,” Boland explains, “because we’ll be switching our business customers to the platform soon as well. Our goal is a one hundred per cent distribution model, which has only been done a handful of times. Responsibility for ensuring smooth technical operations lies entirely with Cwize – it is one of their USPs, after all. I can upload my cases to their platform, according my business rules, without a second thought. They’ll make sure it works. Which means they arrange all the connections and work out the technical aspects with our collection partners, too.”

KPIs

T-Mobile’s debt-collection plans call for two collection partners per customer segment within each brand. Thanks to the reports in Cwize, it will be easy to objectively compare the results of those partners. “We’ve established a whole series of KPIs for that very purpose,” Boland adds. “These include everything from the collection results and the percentage of bad debts to the number of effective payment plans realised and customer satisfaction. The latter is quite important, of course, in light of the current pandemic. These KPIs will enable us to manage our collection partners down to the smallest detail. The cooperation is always based on partnership, though, because our intent is to use this data to help our partners improve their results. It makes it possible for them to learn from one another, for one thing. Above all, I’m a firm believer in specialisation. These are our cases and our business rules, obviously. But it’s the collection agency’s business to know the best way to recover the money, working within the broad framework we’ve established. I wouldn’t walk into a bakery and tell them how to make bread. What I would do, however, is dangle the proverbial carrot. For instance: the collection partners who successfully aligned their organisations to Cwize the fastest were allowed to start work on the first bulk cases straight away.”

Right place, right time

The decision to partner with Cwize Performance Management was an obvious one, according to Boland. “It was a question of being in the right place at the right time. Underlining the timeliness of their solution is the fact that, since the partnership was announced, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions from colleagues at other companies. They’re very eager to hear how it’s going. My answer to them is fairly straightforward: if you only have a single collection partner, you don’t need this tool. You might even be able to manage two on your own. But when you have three, you’ll have a hard time effectively comparing their collection results without a solution like Cwize. T-Mobile Germany is eyeing the combination of our robot and the Cwize platform with great interest as well. While we could probably develop a solution like Cwize on our own, it would take several years and we’d have to be willing to invest a few million. If you ask me, it’s much better to buy a ready-made product, because Cwize has already made those investments for you. And no other company is offering what they are in the same way.”

Expected results

When it comes to the return on T-Mobile’s investment in Cwize Performance Management, Boland has high expectations. “We should see a double-digit increase in our net collection result. Other than that, I’m curious to see how the differences between the brands affect their respective results. And to find out whether everything we think we know about our customers and their payment issues is in keeping with the reality. Cwize and the feedback from our collection partners will teach us a great deal, especially when it comes to identifying problems sooner and improving the effectiveness of our internal process. This is because we’ll also be able to see any problems with customers that emerged at an earlier stage. While in a lot of cases, the customer simply owes payment, we also see plenty of situations that arise from miscommunication and faulty internal processes. The idea is to resolve those situations for the customer’s benefit. Depending on whether they’re good or bad, processes yield either revenue or costs down the road – and that goes for both the organisation and its collection partner. Right now, there’s no way for me to know the exact cost to us. That’ll come soon enough. Another thing I’m eager to see is the results among our business customers. I wouldn’t be surprised if, based on those results, we come to the conclusion that the collection-agency route isn’t the way to go for that specific group of customers. Generally speaking, business customers will eventually pay their bills. And when they don’t, it usually means there’s no money to be had.”

Find more information about the Collenda Performance Management solution Cwize here: