Johnny Ireland, Account Manager at TALKINGTECH
Are you treating your customers fairly? We live in a time where customers can review, choose and switch providers without ever being in contact with another living person. It’s efficient, certainly, but it does mean that when you do communicate with customers, it could well be that it’s only when there’s a problem. These moments may centre on bills and payments; quite often your agents will be chasing payments, with the customer in debt and potentially facing being disconnected.
As such, are you more likely to leave a positive or negative first impression? You have to work hard to make sure it’s the former rather than the latter. Being conscious of how you communicate in challenging times, both in tone and the channels you use, can be the difference between a positive and negative reaction to the interaction. Bain and Co identifies that Australian brands with loyal customers see a direct correlation with growth, profitability and shareholder returns - keeping customers happy is critical to long term success.
It’s not just a business issue. Soon, the way in which energy providers handle interactions with customers in debt will be a regulatory issue as well. Coming into effect in Victoria in January 2019, the changes to the Energy Retail Code by The Essential Services Commission will require energy retailers to help customers avoid getting into debt by providing timely, flexible and meaningful assistance to any who are facing payment difficulties. The Payment Difficulty Framework, part of the new code, sets new standards for how energy retailers must treat customers in, or facing, debt.
Adhering to the framework requires an approach to customer debt management that works with the customer, rather than against them. That means looking at ways to prevent customers falling into debt, providing multiple options to pay, and offering help as the customer requires it.
What links all this? The ethos of treating the customer fairly. No one aspires to be in debt; it can be a distressing time for customers. Energy retailers are bound by the Energy Retail Code to change the way they handle customers in debt, but rather than view it as a regulatory burden, it can be a business opportunity. With all providers required to meet the minimum standards, those that can go beyond the basic requirements and offer a range of options for accessing advice and managing customer payments can develop true differentiation, building loyalty and trust with customers and turning potentially negative situations into positives.