From ‘good’ to ‘great’: How to start delivering exceptional customer service

The energy sector is currently facing existential challenges. Though wholesale gas prices have gone up, price caps are forcing suppliers to sell at a loss. Consumers are also increasingly worried as new inflation highs mean they’re still struggling to make ends meet despite government action. Amid these economic tensions is the transition to net-zero, which is made more difficult by systemic supply chain issues in regions like the US. Customer service offers vital strategic potential at this critical juncture within the energy industry. Finding ways to improve customer service experience allows companies to manage customer sentiment and stabilise revenue for long-term investment. This article discusses customer pain points within the energy sector today. Read on to learn more about barriers to delivering exceptional customer service and ways to overcome them.

What are the customer pain points in the energy sector?

Price when struggling to make ends meet

While consumer prices are rising across the board, energy costs have increased considerably more than most. As a result, people are anxious about their outgoings. A recent survey showed energy bills are now the primary concern for 38% of Britons, even ahead of fears about the pandemic. Survey data from other regions show a similar picture; 40% of Americans and 62% of Germans worry about rising utility costs, indicating a substantial shift in consumer attitudes. While price caps have insulated consumer budgets, the protections are far from absolute as the increase in monthly bills is still significant. So, firms must find ways to remain competitive by delivering maximum value to customers eager to stretch their budgets.

Greener energy

Consumer awareness about the climate crisis is exceptionally high. Pew Research Center data shows that 69% of Americans favour steps to become carbon neutral by 2050. Additionally, an almost equally-sized cohort wants to see firms take a more active role. According to a recent Deloitte survey, 65% of consumers expect senior business leaders to do more to tackle climate change. Therefore, green energy investment is an effective way for firms to catch consumers’ attention and attract new business. Energy companies can capitalise on consumers’ attitudes by adding new climate-friendly services like carbon offset schemes. Already, market data shows this strategy is highly effective. Revenue from green energy tariffs in the UK reached nearly £9 billion in 2020, an all-time high that is nearly double the previous year. As a result, greener business practices are a viable and rewarding business investment. It’s worth noting that the energy pricing crisis isn’t affecting national markets equally. Countries like Australia, where coal production and solar are plentiful, are enjoying a near-decade low point in energy prices. As such, firms can still bolster revenues by catering to eco-minded consumers and helping them live by their personal values more easily.

Customer service

Customer service is another way for energy firms to offer tangible market value. Thanks to review and price comparison websites, customers have become savvier, with one in four consumers regularly using such tools when considering suppliers. Now that customers are more anxious about their bills, customer service is becoming even more of a focal point. Consumers want to resolve billing issues and access government support schemes quickly and efficiently to keep their costs manageable and stress low. Many consumers will be struggling to make ends meet and may be more sensitive to routine issues with their account, leading to an increase in cases for existing call centre staff. Therefore, energy companies should identify ways to deliver exceptional customer service to protect their reputation and revenue. Improving the customer service experience offers benefits in the short and long term. Innovative, reliable and effective customer service solutions are available today.

What are the barriers to delivering exceptional customer service?

Achieving high, consistent customer service standards is no small feat, and neither is maintaining the same standards for customers long-term. So how can companies make their customer service better? Like any business initiative, firms will have to identify an effective, scalable solution and invest. Unfortunately, investment capital is scarce as the industry grapples with global economic pressures. Since the start of 2021, 31 suppliers have ceased trading due to surging wholesale gas prices in the UK energy market alone. Worryingly, there are worries of additional insolvencies in some EU markets, meaning firms must take bold action to innovate and remain competitive. However, investment alone isn’t enough; any customer service solution must be cost-effective. With some energy companies selling at a loss, investment capital must be well-placed until demand drops in Asia and supply lines stabilise. Moreover, senior leaders will need insight and data on how their departments perform. Although standardised surveys are available to measure customer satisfaction, the new pressures on personal finances demand a fresh look at how firms cater to their customers. PwC data shows that over 60% of consumers will stop purchasing from a business after several bad experiences. Therefore, the stakes in retaining customers have risen as customers scrutinise the value for money in their expenses more closely. Establishing the right analytics portfolio can help service teams go from ‘good’ to ‘great’ quickly and sustainably, so having robust data capture and review processes will be crucial.

How to make your customer service better

When improving your customer service experience, it can be challenging to identify what matters most to consumers. In the increasingly online age, it can be tempting to lead with a mobile-first focus and establish seamless digital experiences. Alternatively, loyalty programmes are an attractive way to incentivise long-term brand relationships and ensure high customer retention. And yet, each fails to deliver on what customers truly want. Below are the top five customer service priorities for businesses that will help your customer service experience go from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

1. Speed

Survey data from PwC shows that nearly 80% of consumers rank efficiency and speed as the most important factor in their customer service interactions with businesses. Consumers want typical services like booking appointments for smart meters and boiler checks to be easy and simple. Similarly, customers want more important matters like billing issues resolved swiftly and effectively. That’s why having processes to enable fast resolution times is vital. Otherwise, customers are left on hold feeling stranded, or unsatisfied by non-specific and vague FAQ answers available online. Energy prices are set to rise even further over the next 12 months as geopolitical fallout shakes markets. As a result, more people will be struggling to make ends meet and are turning to governments to demand larger support packages. Depending on how governments draft policy documents, customers may need to apply for hardship funds and grants directly with energy suppliers, which could overrun existing capacity. UK energy suppliers faced harsh criticism recently as their websites crashed from consumers logging new meter readings ahead of the steep price change in April 2022. Therefore, energy firms can safeguard their reputations by proactively investing to improve their customer service experience.

2. Convenience

Survey data shows that convenience is a close second for consumers. Yet, survey results from MoneySavingExpert highlights that ‘convenience’ is slightly different for everyone. While 47% of respondents overall preferred telephony-based customer service, its popularity was notably higher with older consumers. 58% of consumers aged 65-79 and 55% of those aged 80+ preferred the phone, while just 25% of 25-34s and 22% of under-21’s said the same. Live chat tools were more popular with younger consumers, favoured by 57% and 60% of under-21s and 25-34s, respectively, compared to 16% or less with those 65 and over. Interestingly, email was almost ubiquitous across age groups, hovering at around 20%, while other mediums like social media struggled to muster more than 3% anywhere. These results indicate that energy companies must support omnichannel customer service routes and cater to a range of preferences, from telephony to text-based communication.

3. Feedback

Performance data is understandably an essential element of a responsive customer service strategy. Armed with the right data, customer service teams can learn from customer complaints, identify common issues more effectively and even proactively solve them. This bespoke approach to customer service is highly valued by consumers who increasingly seek customised offers and interactions. Data from McKinsey suggests as much as 80% of consumers want personalised services, so capturing the right data about your users is crucial. Customer feedback typically uses one of the following four frameworks:

  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT): A simple question like “Did our product do what you wanted it to do?”
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS®): Asking customers how likely they are to recommend your company or product to a friend.
  • Customer Effort Score (CES): Measuring how much effort it takes customers to use your product and/or fix an issue through your customer support.
  • Milestone surveys: Asking about key moments in the customer’s journey, like immediately post-onboarding, which can be used to improve the customer service experience.

However, senior leaders should account for customers’ appreciation for new product developments like green tariffs or the service quality when accessing hardship support. Each is an example of the unique value and service quality your business can deliver to customers in today’s trying market.

4. A human touch

Warm, friendly service is a cornerstone of delivering exceptional customer service. Poor employee attitudes and abrupt staff interactions are the two leading factors that drive customers away from a business. For some customers, once is enough. Globally, 32% of customers will stop purchasing from a business after just one bad experience, meaning the margin for error is very small. At a time when costs are rising dramatically, a friendly voice at the end of a phone line can be hugely impactful to consumers who are struggling to make ends meet. For this reason, adding a warm, human touch to your customer service can help cultivate a positive, caring public image at a crucial time for customers. Interestingly, some consumers knowingly wish to pay a premium for this service quality. Businesses who invest in their customer service can charge up to 16% more and capture strong customer loyalty as consumers seek comprehensive business value.

5. Product knowledge

Rich product knowledge is the final ingredient to improving your customer service experience. 15,000 consumers in PwC’s global survey rated knowledgeable service as important 75% of the time, ahead of things like fun brand experiences. Customers reach out to customer service agents because static outlets like FAQ pages don’t cater to their specific needs. As a result, customers expect knowledgeable experts to support them by answering niche questions about deals or solving case issues effectively. Unfortunately, this strain on labour means energy companies must identify effective ways to maintain organisational knowledge by attracting and retaining employees. Doing so means that vital skills aren’t lost as employees leave and allows new hires to get up to speed on customer needs.

Start delivering exceptional customer service today

Between supply chain instability, labour shortages, government regulation and more, the energy sector is facing compounding challenges. Though there are more systemic transformations still to take place, like the shift to net-zero, investing in customer service offers short and long-term dividends for your business. By offering fast, friendly and convenient access to knowledgeable service professionals, you can support your customers and stabilise your revenue through settlement agreements. In particular, outsourcing solutions can alleviate the burden of hiring internally and give you instant access to effective, scalable customer service support.

Support customers with Sigma Connected

Sigma Connected allows you to place your customer service experience in the hands of trusted professionals, experienced in challenges like collections,  smart meter installation bookings and vulnerable customer management. If you’d like to learn more about our white-label solution, contact us today.