At Comdata, our advisors are talking about it every day with thousands of customers in more than a dozen different countries. We represent the 10 largest energy companies in the world and are working with them and their customers to navigate this incredibly tricky period.
The perfect storm
The challenges are many and varied – but they essentially boil down to a handful of major issues that have combined to create a perfect storm for customer service. Firstly, in the past 12 months we have seen a more than 30% rise in enquiry volumes for energy brands – we only expect this to go higher, with customers needing support more than ever before, placing a lot more pressure on customer service functions.
On top of that, energy company churn has risen up to 50%, according to global research. In the current economic situation, customers are switching for a lot less than what they did before. They are seeking any kind of incentive or discount to switch to other operators, whether it is a dual fuel tariff, slightly cheaper offers, electronic billing services, or even social vouchers.
Governments are also passing legislation that directly affects interactions between customers and energy brands. In Spain, for instance, a new law is being introduced that will ban the use of automated services to answer energy-related queries. 95% of customers will have to be spoken to by a person within three minutes of getting in touch and the case must be resolved within 15 days.
This is all happening at a time when we are still recovering from two years of Covid-19-related disruption. Everything was turned upside down by the pandemic and all of the data many businesses relied on for future guidance was rendered obsolete. With the rise of working from home, consumers interact with brands at unpredictable times and require different information, making it difficult to plan with any real degree of certainty for customer service purposes.
What does it mean for customer service?
These developments clearly impact delivering customer service in what is already a complex industry. Quite understandably, many people are feeling confused about the current situation with energy prices, stressed about how to pay for rising bills, and are looking for answers about what is happening and what they can do.
The constant changes to regulations and bills mean, as well as there being more customer calls, there are also more duplicates. Many people either misunderstand what they are told during the first call or delays to billing mean the information they were given has changed. This has an obvious knock-on effect for first call resolution (FCR) rates.
Similarly, increased call volumes in a complicated sector typically leads to a rise in average call handling (AHT) times. While advisors have to actively listen to callers and provide them with the best possible advice, they also need to be concise to avoid creating large queues and, with that, the even bigger challenge of a feedback loop of stressed customers.
In a nutshell, customers need quick, accurate, and clear support. However, delivering that will require a focus on qualitative KPIs as much as quantitative measures. Customers need to feel supported, listened to, and like they have found the solution to their query – all of which can be a difficult balance to strike.
Comdata’s three-pronged approach
We recognise that everyone involved in this time of crisis needs support – while that obviously means supporting customers who are enquiring about their bills, it also means helping our clients’ teams and our own advisors too. We are doing that by focussing on three areas:
- Empathising and communicating with customers
For customers, we start by recognising the need for empathy. Rising energy costs have immediately followed the Covid-19 pandemic, during which many people lost their jobs and went through financial hardship.
We have trained our teams to show compassion for customers but at the same time be clear and transparent with the options that are in front of them. We have retrained our advisors and equipped them with the knowledge and the ability to ask the correct questions and give people the information they need to reduce their energy consumption without affecting their and their family’s quality of life.
It has completely transformed the role of a customer care advisor. They now have detailed knowledge of household energy saving – not just product and tariffs. Our advisors are also collaborating and consulting directly with clients, telling them what customers need and want.
- Delivering bespoke services
At Comdata we recognise that people of different backgrounds need services tailored to their requirements – this can be particularly true when it comes to customers of different ages. This is why we launched Comdata Generations, an initiative that aims to interact with people across age groups in the way that best suits them.
For instance, our Generation Silver programme provides customer care techniques that are aimed specifically at older people, who may struggle more with understanding their bills and the variety of products available to them. This includes information on government grants across a variety of markets.
- Supporting our teams
Finally, with so much uncertainty, we are aware that our advisors are at risk of stress from dealing with so many calls from anxious customers. That is why we are doing everything we can to support them in their roles.
We are giving them more free time to unwind during shifts but also providing them with gamification platforms to reward and recognise their successes.
The energy crisis looks like it is only going to continue – at least in the near term. Customers will only need more support, but so too are the brands delivering services to them and the advisors handling their queries daily. Having a partner who can bring all those things together will be as important as ever.