Utility customer service moves centre stage
With large hikes in energy prices being announced by major UK utilities the spotlight is currently firmly on the sector. Politicians have condemned the rises, with Labour leader Ed Miliband threatening to impose a price freeze and ex-Prime Minister John Major calling for a windfall tax on utility profits. At the same time utilities have received major fines for past misselling and misleading customers during the sales process.
All of these factors obviously have an impact on the number (and tone) of calls, emails and tweets to customer service teams within utilities. So how can they deal with all of these interactions without further inflaming the situation? From Eptica’s experience there are four key lessons to remember:
1 Be sympathetic, but don’t over-promise
Consumers are spending a larger and larger slice of their household budgets on energy, and the price rises will cause many people financial hardship. What they want when they call up is a sympathetic hearing from an agent, who demonstrates that they empathise with the customer’s issue. If there are things that can be done, such as moving to another tariff, then they should be offered, but it is vital that agents don’t promise to do more than they can.
2 Be consistent
Announcing price rises is not an instant decision. So utilities need to ensure that everyone within the business knows the reasons why and is fully briefed to give a consistent response, from the Managing Director interviewed on The Today Programme to individual agents. Share information ahead of time – and make sure that other channels such as web self-service systems are updated as soon as an announcement is made.
3 Explain yourself
It may not help sooth angry consumers, but when making tough decisions you need to proactively explain yourself. State what you are doing, what the impact is on the business and the reasons why you have raised prices. Hiding and saying nothing is simply not an option.
4 Focus on excellent service
Every company should be continually striving to deliver superior customer service. But when you are under the microscope make sure that you are looking at all your processes to ensure that they are joined-up, consistent and simple for customers to understand. Look at how you can incrementally improve the overall experience for customers every time you deal with them.
The storm of disapproval currently engulfing utilities isn’t going to go away any time soon. Focusing on customer service is not necessarily going to stop this anger, but it will build the foundation for a better customer experience in years to come.