3 Customer communication trends for utilities in a post-COVID era

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As the UK enters a double-dip recession, with the current lockdown restrictions predicted to remain in place until March at the earliest, the next year looks set to present a number of challenges for utility firms in managing their customer communications.

The coronavirus pandemic has arguably affected the utility sector in a unique way in comparison to other industries. In addition to having to adapt their existing processes to enable more digital, self-serve capabilities for clients, utility firms have also had a responsibility to provide adequate support and leniency towards customers with payment holidays, credit extensions, and the like as their clients deal with the financial stress of the pandemic.

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Based on this, three trends are predicted to form an important role in the utility sector’s recovery in 2021:

1) Implementation of customer-centric debt recovery strategies

Whilst debt recovery is crucial for the survival of utility businesses, the pandemic has caused one in three consumers to enter into debt. For those who were worrying about how to pay their bills before the pandemic, many now face a day-to-day struggle as financial resilience across the country hits an all time low. This has had a significant impact on the wellbeing of consumers as money worries contribute to increased stress levels.

To support customers in 2021, utility firms will need to ensure they pay careful attention to the circumstances of their customers and their ability to pay any debts. We predict firms will continue to focus on implementing debt recovery strategies which are more personalised and sensitive to their customers, to avoid causing additional stress and anxiety to any individuals who may be even more vulnerable than usual.

2) The rise in utility firms using business messaging

Keeping customers engaged without the use of face-to-face interactions during the pandemic has become increasingly challenging for utility firms, despite this contact being crucial to their success. To allow their business to continue to operate effectively under these circumstances, many utility firms have turned to alternative means to allow them to continue communicating and engaging with their customers.

In fact, when compared to pre-pandemic levels, research shows 35.8% of finance and utility companies confirmed they were sending more business messages to potential and existing customers. The details of what utility firms are using this contact to achieve are split below:

  • Account updates – 17.95%
  • Customer service/process updates – 17.95%
  • Delivery information – 17.95%
  • Appointment management – 15.38%
  • Marketing/promotional activity – 12.28%
  • Customer satisfaction surveys – 10.26%
  • Emergency information – 7.69%

By introducing more effective methods of communicating with customers such as business messaging, the utility sector will be in a better position to keep customers engaged throughout the lockdown and months ahead.

3) The future of contact centers for utility firms

There has been a 44% increase in call volume within the UK during the pandemic, meaning utility firms are facing a challenge in ensuring they can respond efficiently to each individual customer. This, coupled with the reduced staffing and lockdown restrictions, places the utility sector in a tight position when it comes to communicating with customers.

To manage the influx in customer enquiries during the pandemic, utility firms should consider implementing additional contact points for their customers to reduce the overall stress on their staff as the sector recovers. We are predicting a surge in the use of chatbots, virtual assistants and other customer service technologies in the coming year, as utility firms look to improve their business efficiencies and enhance their customer experience.

With the use of this technology, customers will be able to receive an answer quicker to basic questions such as “what is the balance on my bill?”, “how can I change my tariff rate?”, or “how can I save money on my electric bill?” through chatbots or other virtual assistants. This reduces the need for utility firms to maintain a larger staff of customer service representatives and will improve the customer experience, both of which will be crucial to the recovery of the utility sector in 2021.

About the author

Amy Robinson is a senior brand development manager at telecommunications provider Esendex, which supports businesses with mobile messaging solutions. Amy takes great pride in assessing the industry’s latest developments and adapting them into new and innovative proposals to ensure that Esendex provides a unique and highly effective service to its customers.