Putting the Pieces Back Together

Spring 2023

How energy suppliers can repair relationships with their customers

Today’s energy crisis is a tough storm to navigate for customers and their utility providers. Customers are facing expensive energy bills on top of already stretched incomes – its unsurprising that many now find themselves at risk of debt. With instances of overcharging, smart meters not being responsive or displaying readings, incorrect tariffs and high exit fees reported, tensions are rising as customers inevitably start to feel failed by their providers. 

Energy suppliers have an obligation to help customers save money and use energy effectively, whilst fulfilling all regulatory requirements and maintaining transparency. But with OFGEM’s latest audit report urging providers to better support customers, there’s a light being shone on the energy providers failing to support those who are struggling to pay. A handful of suppliers are cited by the regulator as doing the right thing to support their customers. But as the country faces winter blackouts, there’s a clear division between the suppliers getting it right and those that need to make improvements – and quickly.

Cracks in the foundation

Customer complaints are through the roof. Systemic challenges, like age-old legacy bill calculating technology are still causing headaches. Customers are dealing with incorrect bills and in many cases poor customer service, at a time when providers need to foster customer loyalty. In the current economic landscape, providers need to refrain from adding further insult to injury, and instead prioritise solutions to help customers manage their money. 

So, what can providers do? They need to prioritise transforming their operations with digital-first and data-driven solutions. Trusted analytics and digital transformation experts can assess the business operations from end-to-end to map a set of diagnostic and prescriptive controls that use artificial intelligence and machine learning. These controls have the power to transform the hurdles caused by legacy infrastructure – including accurate bill generation, tackling overcharging, and meeting regulatory standards. Through digital transformation, energy providers can identify system mismatches and correct them all before the invoice is posted through customers’ letterboxes – a crucial step towards being perceived as a customer-first service provider rather than a collection agency.

The Fix

Investment in AI and automation tools that dramatically improve provider’s customer service function is a sensible first step all businesses should consider. A smooth running and well-oiled customer service function sees better rates of customer satisfaction, coupled with tailored solutions to help them pay - customer outcomes are drastically improved.

As customers continue to look for the best energy prices, it’s clear they’re dissatisfied, and energy providers are struggling to respond to a significant increase in customer enquiries and complaints.  The disconnect between what customers need and the level of service from providers needs to be addressed if providers are going to protect their revenue – and their reputation.

Energy providers can use invoice validation tools to better streamline processes and overcome major hurdles with bill inaccuracies. These data diagnostic tools check that the correct tariff is being applied before it is printed and mailed to the customer. With energy price only expected to rise, customers need to be certain that their provider takes their shrinking pockets into consideration – and ensures that they aren’t being overcharged.

Providers can also implement a predictive bill model into their day-to-day operations. These models compare the current invoice amount with previous invoices to detect any anomalies. If the current invoice does not align with the model, it is flagged and can be dealt with by the provider, essentially avoiding any unpleasant surprises for the customer all before the invoice is sent.

Another way data automation can help with invoices is by implementing a tariff dashboard. This can help providers track changes to tariffs being applied on an account, following requests from customers. In the coming months, customers are likely to change their tariff to suit their usage – with data automation tools like this, providers can be certain that the correct tariff is always applied across all supplier systems.

Lastly, AI and machine learning controls can also help deliver sophisticated customer profile breakdowns that identify vulnerable customers as well as finding the best communication methods for them. Using external information such as monthly salary and other pending payments, these controls can then be used to customise payment options for struggling customers, and identify those at risk of falling into debt.
As energy costs continue to rise this winter, it is crucial that providers are dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s when it comes to communication in effort to be supportive in a volatile climate.

Putting the pieces back together

With more customers struggling to pay their energy bills than ever before, and the regulator keeping a watchful eye over the entire UK energy sector, it is crucial providers move, not only with care but with speed. A sensitive topic like customer debt, for example, requires a human touch. Leading AI technology that’s informed by real human emotions to portray empathy and human-language – that’s all the while supported by an in-person workforce – allows providers to deliver the best possible service to their customers whilst keeping costs in check. Addressing systemic issues needs investment in digitisation, which can help identify processes in customer service and streamline processes. By allowing experts and data scientists on board, energy suppliers can effectively address the challenge that can help them serve and protect their operations in the long term. 

Rahul Arora

Senior Vice President and Head of Emerging Business Unit UK & Europe