Satisfying customers during large-scale change

Written by Craig Sutherland Small headshot image of Craig Sutherland, Senior Consultant at BFY Group.
08 Mar 2024
Transformation Operations and Service Recovery
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Customers want a hassle-free service in Energy and Utilities, meeting their needs rapidly with as few interactions as possible. 

Suppliers delivering this will generally see their cost to serve fall, and reputation rise – so why does it feel like customers and companies are at odds with each other?

Suppliers largely recognise the shift in expectations, and are implementing the long-term changes needed to meet them. Improving direct debit solutions, designing more alternatives tariffs like TOU and EV options, mitigating Smart metering issues and, in many cases, even migrating to new billing platforms.

But the scale of these changes often brings short-term pain, and how you handle this will determine the level of friction with customers.

Can you recognise these challenges before they arise? And how can you mitigate the impact?

Customers aren’t yet reaping the rewards of industry change

In this year’s UKCSI report, we saw a continued decline in customer satisfaction for Utilities – partly driven by an increase in expectation. It’s no longer enough to have only one contact method. Customers expect an omni-channel approach and personalised case handling of their queries. Previously a response to a question within a few weeks may have been acceptable, but now responses are expected almost instantly.

Achieving this type of seamless service requires large scale changes from overhauling telephony systems, standing up new online teams, and multi skilling agents - right the way through to a complete system migration of billing platforms.

Most customers have been through a recent upheaval with the installation of Smart meters, now expecting benefits like the removal of estimate bills, more accurate billing, and wider billing options. However, not every customer has seen this materialise.

Migrations and Smart – Key drivers of billing pain

The above changes are necessary, but all will include an element of short-term pain - often impacting the customer - before the long-term vision can be achieved.

Many suppliers are in the hard yards of their system migration, which can increase the potential for incorrect bills, delayed bills, and no bills in some cases. This drives up the exceptions requiring support from a back office skillset, while increasing the burden on the contact centre, who are supporting those customers calling. As a result, we often see a doubling impact on cost to serve, that if unaddressed at an early stage, can grow to become a bigger problem.

Smart metering is still a root cause of billing issues, with some suppliers recording up to 20% of their portfolio as non-communicating. Not only will this result in the challenges above, but will often include additional site visits - driving cost up further and adding additional effort to the customer.

To ensure customers are protected, regulators are increasing the pressure on suppliers. Ofwat recently announced new powers to fine suppliers for poor customer service, amounting to 10% of turnover in some cases. And the implementation of Ofgem’s Consumer Standards remains a high priority for Energy suppliers.

Companies experiencing this short-term pain will likely feel:

  • Costs are way higher than initially expected
  • The change is taking more FTE and time than originally envisioned
  • The goal posts are constantly moving, with dates stretching into the future
  • Value and benefit associated with the change is shrinking at pace

How can these challenges be addressed?

When facing these challenges, suppliers must remain focused on what drives the best customer outcome, to reduce the downstream cost. Understanding the root causes of an issue, how it’s impacting the customer, and proactively tackling this is key to limiting the impact.

We’ve helped clients turn this around by:

  • Being proactive in prioritising back office exceptions, before the customer does it for you - Understanding the queries with the highest propensity to result in a contact, and proactively working these before the customer is aware, is a powerful way to drive down calls and contact centre demand.
  • Planning out when to intervene - If you can control which queries you need to intervene on, plan to do so at a time that minimises impact on the business, as well as the customer.
  • Working at a customer level within back office teams - Removing the need for multiple instances of handling and repeated changes to a customer’s account.
  • Ringfencing the backlog - Backlog positions are common after large scale changes, but ensure they’re ringfenced and proactively managed. This can mean frequent reporting, daily performance dialogues, setting inspirational targets, giving incentives for exceptional – all key to controlling impact and cost.

Our team recently helped a client to achieve an ~80% backlog reduction by working smarter, being proactive, and taking a customer-level approach in the back office. We’ve seen the impact this has not only on cost reduction, but also employee morale, driving a ~10% improvement in employee satisfaction.

Exceeding expectations is possible, but you must meet needs today

Despite the billing challenges and short-term pain that companies may face during large-scale change, the ultimate goal remains clear - delivering exceptional service that resonates with customers on a personal level.

Companies that prioritise customer impact, solve issues at back office before the customer is aware, and ring fence effectively, will be the companies that recover from their backlog positions the fastest.

These companies will see billing accuracy, timeliness of bills, quality, and call volume begin returning to BAU before the change, driving better performance in the long-run. It’s these companies who will retain belief in their long-term objective, and edge closer to delivering the hassle-free service that customer desire.

If you’d like to know more about managing billing issues, and delivering large-scale transformation, contact Craig Sutherland.

Craig Sutherland

Craig has experience working on both large and small-scale business transformations, IT and people migration programmes, change management and leading cultural transformation.

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Small headshot image of Craig Sutherland, Senior Consultant at BFY Group.