Rising billing, growing fuel poverty and a new quarterly price cap update
Steve Sullivan, Head of Regulatory Compliance, Contact Centre Panel
Just before revealing that the new domestic energy bill price cap in October would rise by another £800, on top of a near £700 increase in April, Ofgem said that it was ‘minded to’ change the frequency of the price cap setting. From October the price cap will be set quarterly, partly in the hope that when energy prices do eventually start to go down consumers will be able to benefit more quickly.
So, what does this mean for energy providers, which are already struggling with the consumer impacts of a massively challenged – and arguably dysfunctional – market and high contact volumes?
The cost centre
If you are responsible for an energy supplier’s contact centre you can forget about engaging in the old profit centre versus cost centre discussion. Your operation is now firmly in the cost centre category. The market is effectively dead, with little or no customer migration between suppliers and E.ON warning that 40% of its customers will be experiencing fuel poverty by the autumn.
The support centre
That level of financial exposure amongst consumers means that the high degree of vulnerability awareness that Ofgem has long required will only increase still further. Energy firms’ agents are right in the front-line of the cost-of-living crisis. An increasing proportion of contacts will be looking for support and enquiring about the suppliers’ own schemes as well as the growing range of government support measures. Keeping the front-line team resilient, protected and engaged is a massive challenge for contact centre leaders to add into the mix.
The Insight Centre
But – as we all know – there is one area in which the contact centre excels and that’s acting as the organisation’s ‘eyes and ears’, benefitting from thousands of interactions with customers every day. That insight might now be redundant from a customer acquisition and revenue generation perspective, but it’s more vital than ever when it comes to understanding the customer experience and reducing costs.
In most organisations, one of the biggest drivers of customer contact (and confusion) is the communications the organisation itself generates. With the price cap being adjusted every 3 months then it is almost inevitable that contacts will rise. And this is where the contact centre can really help.
- If people don’t understand how the ‘smoothing’ of bills over the seasons through the use of direct debit works, then show your Product and Marketing colleagues how they can do that better – before the customer calls or chats to ask the contact centre.
- If customers can’t easily find the answers they are looking for through the self-service app or portal then the functionality needs to be shifted and re-ordered to reflect the changed times we are living through.
- If customers are looking for different ways of paying their bills – be that bill-splitting for people in house shares or even a traditional direct debit with the ability to make fractional top-up payments flexibly – then the contact centre should champion the need to develop the customer proposition accordingly.
A quarterly price cap will inevitably just put more strain on the contact centre and its staff, but if the rest of the organisation can be engaged it might just help spur some process and experience improvements along the way.
If you are facing these sorts of challenges, in the energy sector or elsewhere, and would like to talk them through, why not get in touch.