ACA International, the Association for the Credit and Collections Industry (ACA), the Consumer Relations Consortium (CRC), and numerous debt collection firms called out communication challenges within the proposed debt collection rule published by the CFBP earlier this year. The industry has felt stymied as new communication formats and technologies have flourished around them. Every other type of business has adopted emerging technological channels to communicate with their customers. They do not have to operate under the perceived communication constraints that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act places on debt collectors. Many in the debt collection industry have decried the “solutions” provided by the CFPB as uninformed, unworkable, and stemming from antiquated thinking. Technology vendors serving the collection industry are contemplating ways to help their customers comply with the proposed requirements, while industry members are taking a “wait and see” approach, awaiting the final adoption of the rule. Let’s take a look at a few of the proposals and industry comments.
Time of Day
ACA raised serious concerns related to constraints in the rule around the delivery of email and text messages at inconvenient times for the consumer, determined from the time the communication is sent. The danger lies in the fact that once the send command is activated, the sender has no control over when the email actually transmits. There are so many stops along the way over which the sender has no control that can delay the transmission of an email, potentially setting up debt collectors for inadvertent violations. Easy to defend? Maybe, but the associated expense could create another potential risk that isn’t worth it for a debt collector working in a strict liability environment.
The CRC urges an exemption for automated replies that inform the sender that their email has been received. It should seem logical that it would not be inconvenient for a consumer who sends an email to a debt collector at 2:00 a.m. to receive an automated response at 2:01 a.m.
Consumers have high expectations for nearly immediate responses to their emailed inquiries. I have had the pleasure of responding to a consumer complaint in which the consumer was unhappy that she did not receive a response to her emailed dispute related to an item on her credit report within 2 days, notwithstanding the fact that the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows a data furnisher 30 days to investigate and respond to a direct dispute from the consumer.
According to a study conducted in 2018 by Jeff Toister, CPLP, of Toister Performance Solutions, “A one-hour email response time will meet the expectations of 89% of your customers. Companies aiming for world-class customer service should respond within 15 minutes or less.” (https://www.toistersolutions.com/ blog/2018/4/15/how-fast-shoulda- business-respond-to-an-email, accessed on 10/8/2019.)
As this study demonstrates, the time restriction on emails could impact consumer satisfaction with debt collectors’ handling of consumer electronic correspondence. It also does not account for the fact that a debt collector may have partners on the other side of the world who may be tasked with investigating and responding to consumer disputes received via email. The time-based restrictions for electronic communication needlessly build inconvenience and consumer dissatisfaction into a process that is meant to reduce consumer inconvenience.