The Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has caused a seismic shift in everyone’s everyday lives, and those changes are set to be in place for several months in efforts to stop the virus spreading.
With many of us now working from home, and locked down for the foreseeable future, all businesses have had to adapt to continue serving their customers in whichever way they can.
Depending upon the nature of the business, every company has been affected differently, with “non-essential” enterprises like restaurants, coffee shops and bars being closed, whilst high street retailers and technology outlets have reduced their services to online only.
The UK government have agreed emergency working requirements with utilities suppliers, including measures to ensure that energy supply for all customers in vulnerable circumstances and prepayment customers are prioritised during the COVID-19 outbreak.
But how has it impacted water suppliers and energy providers? What areas of their business has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the most, has there been an increase in demand from their customers, and if so, how are they dealing with these challenges?
Adapting to a new way of working
Utilities providers, like many other businesses, have had to move incredibly quickly to adapt their working practices so that many of their staff, including those in customer contact centres can work from home.
Inevitably, some have transitioned quicker than others and this internal period of re-adjustment will inevitably present teething problems for companies of every size and sector.
Uswitch have estimated that the transition will cause a potential increase of up to £195 per house, or £16 per month for customers on standard variable tariffs, with consumers using 25% more electricity and 17% more gas as a result of working from home.
Other companies have had no choice but to reduce their work force temporarily. Last week, EDF Energy furloughed over 50% of their workers from their Hinkley Point site, reducing their headcount from 4,500 to 2,000 following public criticism around their staff’s ability to self-isolate.
To combat this challenge, EDF Energy have introduced a great use of split shifts and extra buses to transport their member of staff safely whilst social distancing.
Octopus Energy have also made significant changes to protect their staff and their customers, investing in a range of hazardous materials equipment for meter installers and technicians, ensuring their customers still have access to energy.
Octopus are also making great efforts to support their staff in the transition from office working to a working from home environment whilst simultaneously looking after their children, pulling “OctoKids” together to provide parents and their children with activity ideas, colouring-in sheets, boredom boxes, videos and more.
Changes in FAQs
Understandably, consumers across the world are concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the level of concern, many questions about how the outbreak is going to affect them and the services they pay for have started to arise.
Many water companies have quickly adapted their FAQs to reassure their customers that their water supply will continue, what they need to do if they are struggling to pay their bills and, particularly in relation to nationwide shortage of toilet roll, what consumers should and should not flush down the toilet.
Increasing social media presence
Utilities companies have moved quickly to increase the frequency of their social media posts in recent weeks, aiming to reassure customers that their services will continue, and that they’re doing everything they can to protect their customers and their employees.
Some companies will inevitably be noticing negative interactions from their followers as they see their field staff near their properties during lockdown, but social media operators from within the utilities sector are responding and informing their customers that their staff are only completing emergency work.
Here are some great examples of social media updates that utilities companies are posting to reassure their customers:
Integrating live-chat and AI services
Many utilities companies either still have skeleton teams operating the phone lines in their customer contacts centres or have already managed to completely transition them to work from home during this period.
But for some companies, there is undoubtedly going to be some strain on their teams as they adapt to this new working environment, or reduced staffing will see skeleton teams struggle to meet the requirement of customers.
To combat this, some utilities companies are integrating live chat services and virtual assistants, to reduce the strain on their customer service teams, answering Coronavirus-related questions regarding how it will affect their service and their payments.
Are there any issues on the horizon?
One potential problem we think may arise in the coming months, is a growing number of customers who may now be applicable for priority services registers and regarded as customers in vulnerable circumstances, particularly those who have lost their jobs due to the current circumstances.
In addition to this, it has been estimated that homeworking across the country is adding roughly £52m a week on to the UK’s average energy bills. This is undoubtedly going to cause further issues, and potentially add to levels of vulnerability in customers.
Serving those customers efficiently and appropriately is undoubtedly going to be a huge focus for utilities providers, more so than ever before.
We’re very lucky to be in a position where Mando can continue to operate, and our staff are able to continue supporting our customers operating within the utilities sector from home.
We are currently running conference calls on a weekly basis, with the aim of bringing together digital professionals from the water, energy and financial services sectors to share experiences and create cohesive solutions to the synonymous problems they are currently facing.
Joining one of the calls is a great opportunity to:
- Discuss the current situation with peers from within your industry;
- Share experiences on what has and hasn’t worked in dealing with your customers;
- Learn from others about how best to react to the effects of Coronavirus;
- Discover how other companies are improving experiences for customers in vulnerable circumstances.
If you’d like to join us on one of those calls, please get in touch and we can discuss how to get you involved.
If you need help to improve any aspect of your digital customer experience, now more than ever, get in touch and we can set up a video call to get the conversation started. Alternatively send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.