With autumn now upon us and winter staring us in the face, October is traditionally the time when energy suppliers start to see an uplift in calls, emails and live chats.
But with the well-publicised challenges impacting the UK’s energy sector, we are looking at a far trickier autumn than ever before as companies work overtime to service customers and more importantly closely look after their pre-payment customers who are feeling anxious about the increasing cost of living.
So, with this in mind, are energy companies ready and prepared for the spike in contacts? And what else could they be doing?
Credit, customers and consumption
Like I’ve said, October signals the start of the winter peak and pre-payment customers form a large segment of those contacts. However, with the uniqueness of the current climate, it’s safe to say we are looking at a potential triple hit which will impact pre-payment customers perhaps like never before.
Firstly, the Whitehall-led decision to cut the temporary Universal Credit uplift was ushered in on 6 October. The benefit reduced by £20 per week for millions of low-income families – people who during the pandemic have relied on this additional injection of cash. This will impact standards of living and the affordability of essential items.
The second, and very obvious worry, is of course the increase in gas and electricity prices with people struggling to keep pace with their bills and looking ahead to a winter perhaps like never before from a financial perspective. This is a situation only exasperated by a number of energy companies going into liquidation and customers being picked up by other companies, and not always with lower bills.
The third issue in this difficult trio is around consumption. We are exiting a damaging pandemic but what this means is millions of workers moving to a hybrid model where they will spend some of the week in the office and other days at home. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this means more energy being consumed while people hunker down into their home offices or work from their kitchen tables – a situation potentially only made worse by a frost or snow-led cold snap.
Those are the three issues which make this year a difficult one for vulnerable and pre-payment customers and it is a very real risk that they can’t keep the lights on and the gas ticking over if their credit and top ups run dry – especially if some of those have accrued daily standing charges through the summer.
More than anything, this is going to put pressure on energy companies who have to find solutions, find the right staff to support their customers, and importantly, manage their bottom line.
Resolution and the solutions
One of Sigma’s key growth areas in recent years has been our flexibility and speed to ramp up and down seeing us being taken on by energy firms to help them with first call resolution ad more specifically to managing their winter readiness campaigns.
A key cornerstone of those campaigns is our experience and expertise in dealing with pre-payment issues – knowing how to speak to people, what to say, how to find solutions, and just as importantly, where to signpost them if they need deeper external support. This is vital when you also consider the three issues I mention above.
We know, through our extensive experience, that energy companies are already getting caught out with the peak of calls starting to kick in and only increasing as we move into Q4. So, we want to help them sidestep those issues and help them ramp up their customer resilience now and help ramp it down when the spring arrives. We are just starting that process for one client who will be ready to go live by end of October
Like everyone in the industry, we don’t want to see energy companies getting caught out by these seasonal peaks and troughs. Customers are facing a tough time, they are worried and some are facing financial hardship like never before.
What they need are energy firms who have planned, who are prepared and who are looking at every option available to support them at what is the toughest time in a generation.