Posted: 20th September 2021

With the government’s furlough scheme due to end on 1st October, utility firms could see an increase in customers finding it more challenging to pay their bills.

For energy providers, this is compounded by the Ofgem energy price cap increase coming into play at the same time, whilst water companies continue to feel the ongoing effect the Coronavirus pandemic has had on personal finances. According to the Consumer Council for Water’s (CCW) latest annual Water Matters study, just over 1 in 4 households in England and Wales felt their finances had changed for the worse during last year. Those who were already struggling to afford their water bills faced even greater hardship.

This challenging environment for debt collection is likely to mean more complex calls and longer resolution times, placing increased pressure on customer service teams. It is important for utility providers to have the resources to continue to take an empathetic approach when dealing with customers, as this will result in better customer relationships, satisfaction scores, positive word of mouth and brand reputation.

Why empathy matters.

When it comes to debt collection, there are times when a customer may feel unfairly or poorly treated, particularly when they’re struggling to pay their bills and are worried about how to find a solution.

Ofgem’s latest Household Consumer Perceptions of the Energy Market report (covering Q1 2021) asked respondents if they had support with any issues in paying their bills. Almost 40% either disagreed or were unsure. Yet offering customers support in paying, while taking an empathetic approach throughout, can go a long way towards customer retention.

This approach will ensure the customer feels listened to and valued, despite the nature of the call, and are less likely to head to the nearest online reviewing service, such as Trustpilot or social media to share their negative experiences. It’s also likely to mean better CSAT and CMEX scores.

Plus, building a positive relationship with a customer can improve resolution and repayment times. This applies just as much to outbound calls where customers need to be chased for payment as it does to inbound calls from those who are willing to pay.

Our Complaints Outlook 2021 report found that customers’ overall satisfaction was influenced to a large extent based on whether they felt valued by their provider. Unsurprisingly, customers that feel valued are more likely to stay with a company and recommend it to others. In fact, our report found that 17% more customers will recommend a firm to others as a result of a complaint if they feel valued during the process.

Working with vulnerable customers.

An empathetic approach is especially important when liaising with customers in vulnerable circumstances.

Dealing with vulnerability fairly and effectively can be a challenge, but it’s something firms need to get right. Whether a customer is vulnerable on an ongoing basis (the elderly or those with learning disabilities, for example) or have suddenly found themselves in a vulnerable position (such as through bereavement, the loss of a job, an injury or serious illness), a flexible and sympathetic approach will help them feel that they have been treated well throughout the process.

A customer’s vulnerability may not be immediately obvious from their records, so it is important that call handlers have the experience to recognise it. By treating all customers fairly, listening to what they are saying and asking the right questions, vulnerability can be better identified and understood so that the most appropriate action can be taken.

As many firms are rated on their interaction with vulnerable customers, demonstrating your company is able to do so fairly and effectively will show that you can be trusted to support all customers regardless of their circumstances.

How can Huntswood help?

With debt-related calls on the rise, Huntswood can provide much-needed extra resource, freeing up in-house call handlers to manage day-to-day customer calls.

Our UK-based team of customer service experts are adept at using empathy and skilled in managing calls with vulnerable customers. We’re able to support with billing, metering, collections, house moves and matters referred to the Citizens Advice Bureau’s Extra Help Unit – the priority customer register.

We believe that demonstrating empathy with customers is key to building long-term loyalty and trust and will make the collection of debt a more positive process for everyone involved.

Are you a utility firm looking for support in debt collection and help ensuring your customers feel valued? Get in touch with Lisa Sweeney, Huntswood’s Utilities Sector Account Director to learn more.

Lisa sweeney

Lisa Sweeney

Account Director