Consumer Standards – How can suppliers rebuild trust?

Written by Kev Brown
29 Nov 2023
Customer Service Operational Excellence
Man riding upwards on a steep hill on a mountain bike.

Energy’s Consumer Standards shake-up is well underway. Ofgem has published its Statutory Consultation decision, proposing new rules to transform service quality in the industry, and deliver consistently better outcomes for customers.

Of course, change is a two-way street, meaning suppliers should be actively working to adhere to these new rules, with an enduring plan in place well beyond the December launch.

In this blog, we’ll look at the practical steps you can take to accelerate these improvements, focussing specifically on rebuilding trust with the customer, through the development of specific advisor skills, and tailored customer treatments.

Wrestling with the ratings

So far, commentary around Ofgem’s decision has been dominated by the requirement to publish customer service ratings, as provided by Citizen’s Advice. This isn’t surprising, given the latest scores range from 3.7 to 1.8 (Sept 23) across all energy suppliers – painting a bleak picture of servicing mediocrity.

Based on the latest ratings:

  • 63% of energy suppliers scored 1/5 for complaints performance
  • 89% of energy suppliers scored lower than 3.5/5 for overall customer service
  • 1.82 is the range between ratings for the highest and lowest performing supplier

However, while its important to use the CA ratings and its performance indicators as a driver for change, the focus of suppliers needs to span further. Specific action is needed across all three of Ofgem’s licence change areas, as outlined in the following section.

How can suppliers deliver improvements?

1) Prioritising contact with vulnerable customers

Within Ofgem’s focus on ensuring ease of contact, suppliers will be required to prioritise vulnerable customers who need immediate support. To make this possible, it’s essential to build a comprehensive, up-to-date view of the customer's broader payment positioning, leveraging external Bureau data to profile customers where possible.

Creating an internal scorecard for customer behaviour may be helpful, drawing on data to identify opportunities to offer proactive support, and solutions that are tailored to personal circumstances.

Rebuilding trust will be crucial this winter, and this is heightened when dealing with vulnerable customers. In the recent report by the House of Commons Select Committee, a lack of empathy was cited as a significant weakness in the industry. Introducing tailored measures is by no means the full solution, but certainly represents a step in the right direction towards addressing this gap.

2) Creating a culture of proactivity

Proactivity is another key theme within Ofgem’s decision, especially in relation to indebted customers, or those close to entering the debt cycle. To recognise those who are at-risk, front-line advisors will need to become highly skilled, while adopting a data-led approach to identification.

Mobilising this isn’t easy, but when it’s done effectively, advisors will be empowered to build a longer-term understanding of the customer’s situation, and know when it’s the right time to offer support. Critical skills include being customer-centric, establishing genuine connections, and being able to control calls – through active listening, signposting, and confirmations.

For the biggest impact, it’s important to consider the impact of internal processes. A skilled advisor should feel capable of doing the right thing for the customer, without being constrained by the procedures around them. Payment plans are an example of where this could be helpful, allowing timelines to be adjusted by reasonable, but helpful intervals.

3) Getting it right first time

As mentioned above, quantifiable ratings demonstrate the size of the improvement opportunity across the industry. The Institute of Customer Service rates Energy as the lowest performing sector for customer satisfaction (July 23), seeing the largest drop in score over the past 12 months, falling by 5.3 points against a total average reduction of 1.8.

Notably, customers also rated Energy as the worst sector for ‘doing the right thing’, which again highlights the need to rebuild trust. First-contact resolution will be key in changing this perception, cross-training agents to deliver a multi-faceted customer experience, where it’s seen as the norm to address issues during the initial interaction.

Training should be informed by an understanding of advisor capabilities against key competencies, ensuring the right skills are being developed to enable efficient servicing, with tools and processes to support this.

A similar message is also true when handling complaints. Improving first call resolution and same day closure performance should be high priority, while encouraging the proactive account management of customers, throughout any problem they encounter. It’s the quality of these closures, and how this is reflected in repeat/re-open complaints, which can have the biggest impact on how the customer perceives your service.

To encourage better performance, you might look at establishing a stronger connection between front-line advisors and complaints experts, providing the opportunity for real-time support and a live, first-time resolution for the customer.

How can we help?

At BFY, we’re experienced in helping suppliers to enact upstream customer service improvements, focussing on:

  • Understanding the science behind why people choose to act
  • Implementing models for long-term behavioural change
  • Developing the skills and capabilities for customer service excellence

Our complaints experts can also support with immediate tactical improvements, helping you to deliver tangible results in complaints resolution, and the overall satisfaction levels of your customers.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help, contact Kev Brown.

Kev Brown

Kev leads our continuous improvement and lean transformations, working with leaders to deliver our Operational Excellence programme.

View Profile