Blake's Andre Bezuidenhout says that the current economic climate makes debt collection a priority.
Blake is a customer lifecycle management business that delivers debt collection, and call centre and data service solutions shaped to their client’s business needs. Andre Bezuidenhout, the CEO of the Blake Group, says that in a slow economy, people look for ways to get cash in the bank. One of these ways is by being diligent about debt collection.
“A large part of what we do is solve problems for our clients,” he says.
Blake problem-solves for clients by maintaining its data and intelligence sources at an extremely high level. “From various sources on a monthly basis, we get information on who the South African population is, how their mobile numbers, addresses and business addresses change, whether they are selling houses or buying cars and so on. This gives us insight into the broader South African consumer economy.”
For their clients, they will also do propensity modelling around unpaid accounts. This identifies the propensity for outstanding debtors to pay their accounts, and what the best channel is on which to engage them.
“From the outset, we make sure that we have an intelligent engagement with the customer,” Andre says. “We use various techniques to leverage our data to an extent that it allows us to add value to our client’s lives.”
The insights that Blake offers also extend to working out what is the right amount to ask an indebted customer for. “If a customer owes you R2,000 or R3,000, what’s the sweet spot around how much to collect, or how frequently do you request payment. We tailor our strategies according to what our clients need.”
Other clients, he says, might be nearing prescription, so Blake will contact the debtor to get an acknowledgement of debt. “We treat every account and every customer differently to make sure that they get the result that they want,” Andre says. “At any time, we are running 70 to 80 campaigns on behalf of our clients, depending on what they need to achieve.”
Blake also prefers to work with a certain amount of autonomy in terms of how they convince the customer to settle their debts.
“Generally, we get a mandate to negotiate on our client’s behalf. The last thing you want is to do multiple back-and-forths with a consumer or a business. Nine times out of ten, it’s difficult to get hold of people. Once you have them on the line, making sure the arrangement is done and dusted is critical. By and large, most of our clients are happy to accept something rather than nothing, so we have quite a lot of latitude as long as an arrangement is in place to get the debt repaid.”
While call centre work based on good, up-to-date data is the first line of approach for Blake, Andre says they will take the next steps if the situation requires it. “We have an internal legal unit that can issue summons. Going that route is a last resort, so we certainly don’t start there.”
While securing payment from clients’ customers is obviously in Blake’s best interests – debt collection services are paid for only as a portion of the retrieved debts – Andre says that their focus is also on treating customers with humanity.
“There’s a broad range of reasons why people don’t pay their debts. In the consumer space, things are tight and people might be over-indebted and trying to juggle a few too many loan accounts or services, so they need to decide which get priority. This month they may pay DStv, next month Truworths. They are constantly making trade-offs around who to pay and when.”
Blake’s job, therefore, is to help clients’ customers to make wise decisions about how they manage their credit to get the results that they want.
“We take great pains to operate as an ethical debt collector. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can make a difference in consumers’ lives, and help them to correct their debt behaviour.”
Andre is also pleased that his organisation is contributing to job creation in South Africa. “We employ a lot of people in our business – currently around 1,100 – and that’s something we really take pride in. We employ the youth. For many of them, it’s their first crack at a job. And then we invest a lot in training and development so that they are able to have these complex types of conversations with the consumer.”
He says that because they don’t need highly educated or skilled people, they can take school leaders, then give them a start in life. “We spend a lot on learnerships to give them the skills that they need, which gives them a platform to build a career on. People can start with us as collectors and move up to a team leader role. If they have aptitude in other areas, they can end up as software developers or IT technicians because we develop our own systems.”
Blake is proving that debt collectors can benefit not only their clients, but also consumers and job seekers within South Africa’s economy.