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How Can Utilities Firms Cope With The Debt Crisis

How Can Utilities Firms Cope With The Debt Crisis?

Monday, 25 July 2022

Utilities companies are at the sharp end of UK plc’s response to the cost of living crisis. Facing a surge in customers struggling to pay their bills, they’re under close scrutiny from the regulators. Yet, their resources are increasingly stretched as they struggle to cope with the influx of calls and complaints.

What can they do differently to cope? Daniel Denyer, Account Director at EQ Customer Resolutions, reports.

Hazell Carr Dan Denyer Daniel Denyer Account Director, EQ Customer Resolutions

As the cost of living crisis began to accelerate earlier this year, I found myself watching a TV programme addressing viewers’ questions about the energy cap increase. It featured the money saving expert Martin Lewis, and I felt he was fair in the way he discussed the difficult position that energy firms find themselves in. However, whenever a viewer asked for advice on what they should do, he recommended that they speak to their energy firm and, if unhappy, that they should raise a complaint, before referring the matter to the Energy Ombudsman.

As someone who has long been working with EQ on helping financial services companies manage the rising tide of vulnerable customers, I felt sympathy for the frontline teams at the energy companies when I heard this.

Clearly, an increasing number of consumers (and businesses) are experiencing terrible financial difficulties, and are struggling to pay their bills. But clearly, if you’re a utilities company, this also puts you in a difficult position. You can help the most vulnerable customers with support from the Government, charities and your own support schemes, but you are also now receiving calls from a much wider demographic of people who never expected to find themselves facing financial hardship. These consumers have to find a way of paying their bills. That can lead to difficult conversations which, of course, you have to manage with great care. These have to be in line with the requirements laid out by the regulators.

The big questions

As well as extensive experience of helping financial services companies with their frontline customer management, we have also worked with a number of utilities companies. And there are several big questions that we hear them asking at the moment. Do we have enough staff in place to speak to customers who are in difficulty? How much of this capability should we outsource – and which elements? Do our staff need additional training? How do we balance the regulator’s requirements with practical business logistics? And how can we rise to the challenge by improving our processes?

These are all questions that we can help with. We can provide trained customer-facing staff aligned to the needs of your organisation and the requirements of the regulator – either to efficiently handle mainstream enquiries, or more specialist calls. We can review your processes and create recommendations to make them more efficient and cost-effective. And we can provide support through automation and analytics to streamline your systems so that your call centres can focus better on the customers who most need help.

In-depth, empathetic conversations

Proactive communications are also essential in a crisis such as this: identifying the cohorts that are most likely to be affected, offering as much information and advice as possible, and preparing for more in-depth and empathetic conversations than may have been required in the past.

It is challenging. With distress and anxiety, emotions can run high. And in a society attuned to on-demand services and next-day delivery, there’s an increasing expectation of instant resolution. However, we invariably find ways in which we can help. And, in advance of the energy price cap change in October 2022, there’s never been a more pressing time to take action to handle the inevitable and continued surge in queries, complaints and payment problems.