Utility Week Customer Summit 2021
This Year’s Utility Week Customer Summit was unique in that it brought together two of the organisation’s most popular calendar events - the Utility Week Energy Customer Conference and the Utility Week Water Customer Conference. It’s one of the biggest annual events on Revive’s team calendar, and with expert speakers from the likes of Ofgem, Ofwat, Yorkshire Water, SP Energy Networks and E.ON, we certainly weren’t going to miss this year’s conference. While the pandemic still casts an unavoidable shadow, the summit was full of optimism and opportunity, with the focus very much on consumer engagement, maintaining the customer experience, and exploring new, dynamic ways to address things like digital exclusion at a time when connectivity is paramount.
Financial vulnerabilities, online safety, and the changing customer landscape
The 2-day event kicked off by looking at how the customer landscape had shifted in the wake of the global health crisis. Processing payments from customers with financial vulnerabilities has always been a challenging and highly sensitive area for utility providers, and COVID-19 has only increased the number of customers experiencing financial difficulties. By the end of 2020, more than 2 million UK households were behind on their energy bill payments.
Will customers who find themselves in difficult financial circumstances for the first time know where to look? Will they know how to access any available support? These questions were very much at the forefront of suppliers’ minds following 12 months of gradual adjustment to the ‘new normal’. Many suppliers at the event will have been directly involved in the new Vulnerability Commitment and Breathing Space regulations that seek to give customers peace of mind and vital support during trying times.
It’s developments like these that will go on to shape the customer journeys and payment processes of the future, so it was of particular interest to us here at Revive.
Utility providers should be thinking carefully not only about how they approach and handle customers experiencing financial difficulties, but how they shape their messaging to reflect what support is available.
Customer experience experts, Verint, who also sponsored the event, brought some eye-opening statistics to the table. They found that 6 out of every 10 customers want the freedom to be able to engage with their utility providers on any channel at any time, and more than a third said that self-service via a website was their preferred mode of engagement. There’s little doubt that the future is digital, from onboarding new customers to receiving payments, but this presents its own set of challenges…
Addressing the digital gap
The pandemic also shone a light on the digital gap, surprisingly still prevalent here in the UK. With face-to-face meetings off the cards and phone lines constantly engaged, those without access to digital services or the means to use them will have felt powerless throughout the past year. Introducing automated services and allowing customers to ‘self-serve’ has become commonplace, but what impact does this have on the customer base as a whole? Many still pay using physical fobs and pay-as-you-go meters, and may not know where to turn in such times if they’re trying to shield or quarantine.
Innovating with consumers in mind
Liz Barber, CEO of Yorkshire Water made the important point that “trust is really important”, and reinforced the notion that as a utility provider, the company is providing an essential public service first and foremost. She stressed the importance of finding a balance between consumer protection and benefits, and how important it was for businesses like Yorkshire Water to innovate and move on from traditional frameworks.
Michael Lewis, CEO of E.ON, who is also a Revive customer, discussed how important it will be in 2021 and beyond for customers to have a more “active relationship” with their energy providers. E.ON has fundamentally changed as a business in recent years as it seeks to transition from fossil energy to renewable energy, and it wants to engage and involve its customers more in that journey. Doing so would remove perceived points of friction, such as adding smart meters into customers’ homes or altering the way they are billed. By transitioning to digital in this way, suppliers will empower customers and put them in charge of their own journeys.
One of the most striking messages from the summit was that while utility companies need to digitise and give the option to self-serve, it doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of the customer experience. An omnichannel approach is not only possible in 2021, but widely preferred. Verint presented more data at the conference to highlight this, indicating that while 54% of customer would be happy to engage with chatbots, 100% always wanted to at least have the option to deal with a human directly if they felt it was necessary. This multi-channel approach is going to be vital for the industry moving forward, particularly when it comes to retaining customers and earning their trust.
In 2021 we’re likely to see the number of customer touchpoints grow as suppliers continue to develop their customer journeys. At Revive, we believe firmly in the role technology can play in enhancing those touchpoints and joining them together to form a seamless user experience. From building loyalty, trust and brand identity, to converting payments and prompting action.