As providers of critical services, most energy & utility companies have contingency plans in place to avoid disruption of service, and emergency response measures to resume supply if interrupted by weather or other natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the industry with a set of unprecedented problems that require novel solutions. Apart from having to provide an uninterrupted supply of power under drastically different operating conditions while ensuring the health and safety of their employees, the industry must deal with a sea change in consumption habits and customers who are puzzled by the precarious situations they have found themselves in. As a big percentage of the world’s population remains under lockdown, there is already a big shift in customer journeys, customer expectations and businesses’ abilities to satisfy them.
The lockdown in most parts of the world leading to halting of production and industrial activity has resulted in a significant drop in the energy consumption of commercial and industrial consumers. Conversely, as a result of residential customers spending significantly more time indoors, their energy consumption and resulting bills would be higher than average. This, at a time when many customers might struggle to pay their bills on time. Customer queries about billing and payment will increase significantly and could swiftly lead to disgruntlement if they are not managed well. How are energy companies around the world dealing with this unusual situation? Some energy suppliers are reassuring their customers through disconnection moratoriums, late fee waive offs, payment extensions, and personalized instalment plans to help ease the situation.
The importance of consumer communication can never be emphasized enough in a situation such as this. Proactively reaching out to customers through emails, notifications on mobile applications, and website information with information and self-service methods for the most frequently asked queries would help keep inbound queries lower.
Power and utility companies rely on their physical customer centres to cater to a variety of customer needs- including bill payments, enquiries, customer support, connection changes, etc. The COVID-19 outbreak has severely limited the operations of physical customer service centres, requiring the companies to reach out to their customers digitally, and vice versa.
Digital, undoubtedly, is the way forward.
To accommodate the higher than normal volume of contact requests as a result of limited or no operation of physical contact centres, energy companies should ramp up their digital contact channels. Interactive Chatbots, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) can be used to handle the majority of customer queries while keeping the costs down. The digital transformation that most leading players in the industry have implemented or are in the process of implementing can now offer solutions. Energy suppliers can use the available data on energy consumption habits to educate customers on how to reduce consumption and lower their energy bills when their energy usage is going up. The use of technology and automation can play a critical role in effectively managing customer queries, applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help companies manage the spike in requests. These technologies will also help take some pressure of already overwhelmed customer support executives. Optimizing the mobile experience is key as more customers than ever before would use their smartphones to contact businesses.
This crisis also offers an opportunity for electric utilities to improve overall opinions, only if they use digital tools to anticipate its customers’ issues and proactively address them, using a seamless, omnichannel approach. How the energy sector addresses the challenges it faces may change the consumer behaviour and habits for the foreseeable future. The virtual conference, CX IN THE ENERGY SECTOR: CUSTOMERS, CULTURE & COVID-19 will bring together six Customer Experience leaders from global energy companies to share best practices for becoming a customer-centric organisation and facing unprecedented challenges in these uncertain times. Connect with us to join the discussion.