For years, UK utilities have focused on improving customer satisfaction. But the recent spike in energy costs is putting a whole new kind of pressure on the industry.
When stress on customers’ bank accounts is this high, is there anything that can be done to improve the utility customer experience?
Price cap increases raise the pressure
In April, the new price cap set by Ofgem went into effect in the UK. For those who pay via a ‘dual fuel’ gas and electricity standard variable rate tariff (SVT), the household cap is now £1,971 per year — that’s a staggering 54% higher than the previous cap.
The rising price cap is a reaction to increasingly expensive oil and gas, the cost of which has been driven up by the pandemic, global inflation, and the war in Ukraine. But fuel isn’t the only thing getting more expensive — inflation is so high across categories that many experts are calling our current moment the cost of living crisis.
For utilities, this means two things:
First, costs are going up, and savings from improved operational efficiency will be critical.
Second, the volume of customer communication is likely going to skyrocket.
Customer contact volume unlikely to subside
Stress and uncertainty both lead to increased contact from customers.
This is a lesson utilities learned just recently. 75% of service professionals say that managing case volume has been more challenging during the pandemic.
Utilities are likely already seeing increased calls to their contact centres and support ticket volumes as a result of April’s energy price cap increase. As the cost of living continues to go up and customers’ bank accounts get stretched even more, utilities should expect these trends to continue, leading to a feedback loop of long wait times, dissatisfied customers, and stressed support teams.
All of this puts a strain on customer experience, operations, and innovation initiatives. How can you improve customer satisfaction when support and service are overwhelmed?
During this crisis moment, it’s tempting to hit the brakes on customer experience initiatives. But in fact, it’s more important than ever for utilities to nurture customer relationships
Transparency and proactive communication are key to navigating a crisis
Now more than ever, every customer touchpoint matters. Missed communication about a service appointment is annoying in the best of times — in a crisis, it could be catastrophic.
We’ve known for years that customers want transparent, proactive communication about their service appointments. Without appointment reminders or notifications about technician ETAs, customers experience heightened stress and anxiety.
This communication doesn’t need to strain support teams. In fact, it makes their jobs easier. Customer engagement software can automate transparent, proactive customer communication surrounding service appointments, reducing contact centre volume and improving satisfaction.
Examples of automated communication include:
- Automated appointment confirmation and reminders
- ETA windows with updates based on technician location, as well as real-time technician tracking
- Automated feedback requests
Self-service is more valuable than ever
Even with minimal wait times, customers don’t want to call a contact centre for simple tasks like rescheduling a service appointment. A Salesforce survey found that in 2020, 59% of customers already used self-service account portals, and an additional 23% were interested in using them.
Now, with the cost of living crisis leading to increased contact centre volume, minimal wait times are unlikely. Any customer that can be redirected to a self-service option is one less call your support teams have to take, meaning support professionals can spend more time responding to customer concerns about rising bills.
Self-service portals are a mature technology that’s easy to deploy. In 2022, there are no excuses for utilities to require a phone call for:
- Making or updating a service request
- Rescheduling or cancelling a service appointment
- Checking on technician ETA
In addition to reducing call volume and increasing customer satisfaction, self-service portals have the ability to reduce operational costs. When customers are able to easily reschedule an appointment or find their technician’s ETA, the likelihood of no access calls is reduced.
With the cost of living crisis likely to persist for months or years, utilities must maintain their focus on customer experience. High bills lead to high stress for all parties, but the work of improving customer satisfaction can act as a release valve.
By increasing transparency, proactive communication, and self-service options, utilities can reduce contact centre volumes as well as operational costs.
Learn more about Localz customer engagement software for utilities