This issue’s Agency Spotlight is pointed at CBE Group. Collection Advisor spoke with CBE Group’s president and COO, Chad W. Benson. Benson describes CBE Group’s formula when working with telecom debt and how it can successfully collect with other types of accounts for a truly diversified account portfolio.

Tell us about when and how CBE Group opened its doors.

benson chadCBE’s roots go back to 1933 when our early founders started a local credit bureau company in Iowa. When Tom Penaluna, our CEO and Chairman of the Board, purchased the company from his father in 1986, he had a vision for innovation and growth in accounts receivable management. After we sold our credit bureau division to focus on debt collection, CBE Group’s growth really took off.

Why do you collect telecom debt? What other kind of accounts does CBE Group collect?

It was really our early success and growth in the telecom industry that launched us into our first growth trend. We quickly became experts in the telecom industry and defined specific strategies and analytic models around the uniqueness of accounts in the cable, satellite, wireless and subscription service industries. Our strategies work well for the high volume and low balance attributes of telecom accounts. Meanwhile, our culture supports positive customer satisfaction and brand reputation that has significant reward in an industry where repeat customers are so important.

In addition, to the telecom space, we also have strategic business units dedicated to financial services, government services, healthcare, education and utilities. We find that this level of diversification has really paid off. Not only do we apply best practices across industries, but it also creates less risk for our clients in financial stability. That is big in today’s legal landscape. Too often I see agencies go under because of an impact on the one industry they rely on. Diversification has made us more flexible and sustainable.

What would you say is the most pressing issue with telecom collections today and what do you think is the best way to deal with it?

Approximately 60% of all telecom placement accounts are associated with consumers that are cell-phone-only users and do not have landline telephones. Therefore, about 80% of right-party contacts are communications via cell phones. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act makes this a pressing issue. Agencies need to have a means of providing quality services to their clients in a manner that is efficient enough to meet all compliance and work standards while simultaneously meeting TCPA regulatory requirements. That dynamic, coupled with increased sophistication in recovery management, close races in competition and higher security and infrastructure expectations makes leading performance for clients more challenging to achieve. The best way to deal with it is head on. You have to have the ability to invest in things like compliance management, IT innovation, extensive security and tools of efficiency to stay ahead of the curve. Catching up with standards is far too difficult.

What is the most underrated/underappreciated technology that an agency has and how can an agency make it work harder for them?

Location based services are extremely important to the success of collection efforts. Too often, agencies aren’t strategic enough with this investment. As one of the larger variable expenses, it is something that must be leveraged for success. As an industry, we have to start looking at big data differently, and more strategically. Process time, data accuracy, de-duplication, vendor variety, waterfall strategy – these are all things that must be closely managed and analyzed so this investment works harder at delivering not only top performance, but the best customer experience.

What methods of payment does CBE Group accept (check, credit cards, ACH, bitcoin, dogecoin, etc.)? Why?

CBE accepts payments from consumers via checks by mail, electronic check 21 processing, major credit cards, WesternUnion and MoneyGram. We strive to offer the best balance in options that make resolving bad debt balances consumer-friendly, cost-effective, accountable and secure.

What would you say is the key to success in telecom collections?

Protecting our client’s reputation in the consumer market. A customer with a bad debt account might once again be a customer someday and the likelihood of that happening is influenced by how they are treated when they are not an active customer. We understand that customer satisfaction is important to our client’s long-term success. Performance shouldn’t have to sacrifice customer experience, compliance or our client’s reputation.

CBE GroupHow do you keep your collectors motivated and on their A-game?

We invest heavily in professional and personal development for our employees. We pride ourselves on low turnover and highly satisfied employees and know that the culture we’ve created has a big impact on the customer experience and performance we deliver for clients. First, we ensure employees have the tools, skills and support they need to succeed. Second, we keep our staff motivated through team contests, a healthy commission plan, performance and profit-based bonus structure, and, most importantly, a strong culture that creates a family-like environment where people are naturally motivated.

We’ve invested in things like company-wide 7 Habits of Highly Successful People training to help our employees be better at work and at home. To be sure our efforts are paying dividends, we use analysis through the Net Promoter System and employee engagement surveys to keep a strong pulse on the effects of our initiatives.

Our Organizational Development team would say our staff is “green and growing, not ripe and rotting.” It’s encouraging to me to know that our people, the most important thing to success, are at CBE because they want to be, not because they have to be. That makes a big difference in the results we deliver each day.

Aside from successfully collecting accounts, what are important factors to keeping clients happy?

We are very focused on well-rounded client partnerships. It’s about much more than a liquidation race for us. In fact, if that is absolutely all a client looks at, we might not be the best fit. We thrive with clients who value a well-rounded client partnership where trust and transparency are crucial to creating a win-win environment. We are committed to staying ahead of the curve, adding value outside of the services contracted to help solve business challenges, and looking for ways to improve, test new ideas and create new outcomes. Especially in the telecom industry, we’ve been the go-to agency for many clients when they have a pilot program or are testing a new strategy. They trust us to understand the problem, help create a solution, and manage change without compromising consistent overall performance.

Is CBE Group involved in the community?

cbe groupOur staff is remarkable when it comes to giving back to our community. We have several initiatives as part of our CBE Cares program where employees come together to do remarkable things for others around them. The results of United Way month each year astonish me. Last year our employees raised over $80,000 to donate to an organization that does so much for our community. In addition, we support pay-it forward month, where employees team up to do something that makes a significant impact on lives in the community. We also work very closely with local schools. In fact, Tom Penaluna, CBE’s CEO and Chairman of the Board, has made significant personal and corporate investments in launching FranklinCovey’s The Leader In Me program in communities surrounding our corporate headquarters. What he has done for area youth, our future employees, is truly incredible.