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Sigma is a flexible outsourcer to the energy sector

Energy companies provide a vital service across the UK – and the majority of the population will use one of their services at least once a day. But it’s a challenging business to be in right now, with profit margins tight – or non-existent – heavy regulation, and a seemingly never-ending rise in wholesale energy costs.  Now, more than ever, is the time to look at every angle of financial costs to help maintain a profit.

That could be in the form of cost reduction; improved collection of debt; reducing losses through the settlements process; retaining existing and winning the right new customers in a cost-effective way; or maximising revenue through better billing. 

Sigma has deep knowledge and experience in all of these areas and can find a solution to issues in every area of your business

Energy industry expertise

Ben Jones, Chief Commercial Officer, Sigma Connected

Before joining Sigma, Ben spent 20 years working in energy markets, navigating through many of the potential pitfalls of the industry. "My goal is to get the best outcomes for customers while ensuring they have to use minimum effort. I'm also passionate about finding ways to support customers in fuel poverty."

Rob Sawle, Director of Energy Services, Sigma Connected

Rob also brought with him a background of two decades in energy retail across the whole customer lifecycle from acquisition to collections. Rob’s detailed knowledge of the energy market will ensure Sigma is right on point with the knowledge and skills required to support our energy clients in this dynamic and ever changing landscape of energy retail.

A trusted contact centre partner to the energy industry

We deliver back, middle and front office customer contact solutions to the energy sector, across the whole customer lifecycle from sales and onboarding to early arrears and late-stage collections. Each client is different, with different requirements, and we tailor our solutions to meet current, and changing, needs. We can offer offshore and onshore solutions and, increasingly, several UK clients are looking for a blend of both. Find out more about Sigma’s offshore solutions.

We also run an Energy Innovations Lab, bringing together people who have extensive experience working in the sector, across a variety of roles, pooling their knowledge on how to solve both client challenges, and those of their clients’ customers.

Sigma Connected UK

Our services to the energy sector

It’s widely known across the industry that around half of the UK’s population switch energy suppliers regularly, as they look for the best deal and better service.

This ‘engaged’ 50% have often painstakingly researched their next move, compared prices online, or taken advice from friends and family. While the main channels for switching remain the Price Comparison Websites (c64%* of consumers), some still rely on door-to-door sales and many utilise ‘refer a friend scheme’.

Other available channels are of course telephone sales, which is still a hugely successful way to sell. At Sigma, we support a number of UK energy clients with our low-cost outbound telesales from South Africa, with great results.

Whether you are an energy company or a price comparison site, whether it’s for new sales, inbound enquiries or retention activity, Sigma can support your business.

*source: Ofgem Household consumer perceptions survey May 2021
Once a new customer has chosen to switch, then it’s critical that their onboarding process is as smooth as possible. One common issue we see is that energy companies ramp up their sales activity, but don’t always consider the additional service element that goes with it.

Sigma has proven ability in supporting energy companies with either long-term support or to help with short-term spikes in demand, or specific campaigns.
- Either in UK or South Africa
- From Welcome Calls to queries on 1st Bill
We also have considerable experience in Supplier of Last Resort (SoLR) bids. Customers need immediate assistance from day one of an SoLR taking over and that demand can be overwhelming for existing customer service teams. Sigma can offer multiple solutions to provide that support, from day one, ramp up quickly, and continue to service until a strategic decision is made as how best to support these customers.

Having successfully supported multiple SoLR processes and portfolio migrations we are able to bring valuable insight in order to ensure bid accuracy followed by a smooth transition through to business as usual.

The support normally falls into 3 phases and we generally support our clients across all 3 phases

Phase 1 - Reactive
Sigma’s stand up teams are able to rapidly deal with the initial contact from worried customers either by phone, email or chat. Our skilled, temporary workforce can be ramped up and down with very little notice.
We have mobilised as quickly as 3 days from being notified by the winning SoLR bidder and had c50 FTE logged on and ready to start training. This phase typically lasts 3 to 7 weeks and is expedited using a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) concept and FAQs provided by the client.

Phase 2 – Proactive
This phase generally lasts anything from 4 to 16 weeks and provides a more detailed level of service to customers using clients’ own systems. It provides breathing space to energy suppliers while they work out the longer-term strategy for managing these customers. What follows is either a migration into core systems, or a decision to continue to manage as a standalone brand. Importantly it means the customers get the support they need without putting additional strain onto existing customer service teams.
This resource can either be UK- or South Africa-based and it typically takes 3 weeks to get teams trained and ready to support customers as they start to reach their first billing cycle.

Phase 3 - Care
At this point, 3 to 4 months in, we are reaching a more Business as Usual phase, where initial data problems have been resolved, customers are into a billing and payment cycle, understand their tariff and safely on board. Due to the speed at which the SoLR happens, and rapid growth of the customer base, we tend to find, longer-term, that clients then retain our resource, now skilled in their systems and processes, either as a ringfenced group, or as additional resource to their existing teams.

Phase 4 - Retention
Finally, having been moved to a supplier who was not their choice there is a high risk that customers will switch. A bespoke retention programme is advisable, focusing on the positives of the new supplier and potentially offering retention incentives. Sigma can support these retention programmes by providing a dedicated team, trained in objection handling, to ensure there is a clear focus on the activity.

With the advent of digital channels, consumers demand quicker and quicker response times. While, across the energy industry as a whole, the most common method of communication still remains the phone, other channels are growing in popularity. Customers expect a seamless experience — regardless of the device or communication channel they choose. They want to pick up where they left off on one channel and continue the experience on another.

These changes in communication channels present an opportunity for energy companies that don’t want to have voice contact offshore. Email and web chat can be handled very effectively offshore, and the savings either invested into onshore voice contact, or other projects or priorities.

Sigma supports all contact onshore and offshore in South Africa, with some clients choosing a blend of both.
One of the biggest issues for energy consumers is not being able to get a satisfactory resolution to their complaint. Around 50% of customers are dissatisfied with the way in which their complaint was handled by UK energy companies, and an even higher percentage of customers dissatisfied with the time taken to respond to their complaint

This is a key area of focus for Sigma and, by adding additional resource in a low-cost offshore location, energy companies can resource up to the required levels to be able to offer the service expected from their customers

We see the top reasons for customers complaining revolving around energy industry-specific problems like bill queries, smart meter issues and problems with switching. That’s why it’s vital to use a partner, like Sigma, that has expertise in the energy sector.
We offer the energy sector a range of services for collecting debts, from early-stage to late-stage collections, panel management and debt sale brokering. And we can manage the entire end-to-end process, or deliver selected services to work alongside our clients’ internal processes and staff.

We particularly focus on early contact from our dedicated team of customer advisors, that are specialists in the early stages of the arrears process. Early contact is becoming an increasingly important part of energy companies’ approach, particularly in the current economic climate. Customers struggling to pay should be offered support and appropriate solutions before the debt becomes unmanageable.

We can now offer clients a full collections service through to DCA with our in-house agency McLaren Credit Services. This provides a seamless transition for you between early and late collections.
In addition to customer contact services, Sigma can also provide cost effective back-office processing either on or offshore., with our South African operation providing the perfect solution for complex activities or processes that require a customer contact.
These services can include:

- Email enquiries that are complex and may require voice contact
- Metering queries
- Erroneous Transfers
- Settlements
- Feed in Tariff
- Prepayment Misdirected Payments
- Change of Occupier
- Middle office work (Handoffs from call centre)
- Commissioning or re-commissioning of Smart Meters
- Direct Debit Re-assessment
Vulnerability, including financial hardship, can affect anyone and can be caused by a huge range of situations, from illness and stress, to disadvantage, to the ongoing issues related to COVID-19. And these situations and circumstances can change from day to day.

Sigma customer advisors are experienced at identifying vulnerability – and potential vulnerability – and can proactively engage with customers to offer the necessary support. Regular contact can be maintained with the customer to continue support and take pre-emptive, practical measures to help.

‘Treating Customers Fairly’ is part of our DNA and we are already supporting multiple clients with ‘Safe and Reasonably Practicable’ conversations every day, including, for example, Priority Service Register and affordability assessments, promotion of other relevant hardship/vulnerability schemes and free money advice. In addition, our award winning ReachOut service is helping a growing number of our UK clients engage with customers who potentially have problem debt.
The fact that over half the population now has a smart meter installed, brings fresh challenges for energy companies. Firstly, it means there are many millions of meters still to be fitted and will require appointments to be booked. Secondly, of those millions of meters fitted, customers are already facing issues with how they operate.

Sigma is supporting energy companies with both these challenges. As a specialist outsourcer in energy, our team is fixing many hundreds of smart meter issues every day. With access to DCC systems, we are talking customers through remote re-commissioning of their meters, or arranging an engineer visit where this isn’t successful.

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