In a matter of months we’ve witnessed the onset of the global gas crisis (which shows no sign of abating); the Ofgem April energy price cap hike with prices expected to rise by another 50 per cent this autumn; and record numbers of energy suppliers going bust.
While the sector does its best to get to grips with these unprecedented events, it is customers who are ultimately affected. To find out what people across the UK think, we ran a survey of UK utility bill payers. We wanted to know their views on issues like rising prices, but also what’s important in a utility supplier and how suppliers can improve their customer service. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a clear theme running through the results: customers are embracing digital technology and they want suppliers to do the same to improve the customer experience, particularly now they are faced with higher bills. Here we take a look at some of the results.
1. Higher energy prices: customers want better service in return
80 per cent of respondents say they are worried about increased energy prices and how these will affect household finances this year. Two thirds say they will have to spend less on essentials such as food and clothing to pay the bills, and over three quarters will look to reduce their energy use, for example by taking fewer baths and showers. The higher energy price cap is likely to make customers more demanding and less loyal – 58 per cent said they will now expect higher levels of service in return for increased bills, however, it is those in the 25-44 age bracket who are most demanding. They want higher levels of service, better deals and will switch as soon as they can.
2. Customers prefer digital self-service
Customers are increasingly using digital services to communicate with companies and, having been forced to switch to digital because of COVID-19, many now find they prefer doing business this way. Indeed 61 per cent of bill payers told us they have become more used to interacting digitally since the pandemic. The majority (72 per cent) now want utility companies to provide online resources so they can find information and resolve queries themselves, and 60 per cent would prefer not to speak to anyone at all if they can solve their issue themselves online.
As self-service is cheaper than using call center agents, this is an opportunity for utility companies to cut costs and at the same time give customers what they want. This could include, for example, providing easy access to information about products and energy saving advice that is specific to each customer’s individual circumstances, as well as FAQs, resources and community forums to help solve simple problems.
3. Increased demand for digital bills
The demand for electronic bills is also growing, with 64 per cent of survey respondents saying it’s more convenient to view household bills online than on paper. And nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) said they are more likely to check their bills for mistakes. This figure jumps to an incredible 87 per cent for those aged 25-34, 84 per cent of 35-44s and 83 per cent of all females. Given the looming cost of living crisis, monitoring bills is going to become even more important for those keeping a close eye on their energy spending.
To assist with the delivery of electronic billing, energy suppliers have the opportunity to create bills in new formats to suit a wide range of delivery channels. For example they could send a summary bill by text, and make a more detailed document available on a self-service portal or app. They can also differentiate further by turning standard bills into more interactive communications: providing digital tools to help customers understand their charges, manage their usage and budget for the future.
4. Customers want joined-up communication and service
Offering a joined-up customer service operation with a variety of customer contact channels and effective self-service technology is essential. 93 per cent of the bill payers we surveyed want to be able to contact their supplier in the way that’s convenient to them, be that by phone, email, social media, text or messaging. 93 per cent also said it was important to get a quick response to queries regardless of whether they use a digital channel or make a phone call. 91 per cent want good online resources to help resolve simple issues, while 90 per cent expect to receive bills and correspondence however they choose, be that by post or electronically.
Improving the experience for utility customers
Utility companies must work hard to stand out from the crowd in the current market. With less scope to offer attractive tariffs, improving the customer experience is the main differentiator open to them and customers – now more than ever – expect them to step up to the mark. Innovation in other industries means customers expect the same experience across the board, regardless of how digitally evolved a particular sector is.
Utility companies are not only measured against other utility providers, they are also being compared with sectors like banking, telecoms and travel, where there is a much more sophisticated and evolved customer experience. For many years, utility customers were happy with a reliable supply of energy to their homes and occasional communications from their provider. Now, however, suppliers must work at developing their digital solutions to meet the requirements of customers who know what they want.
To find out more about the results of our survey, why not take a look at our report ‘Giving UK Utility Customers A Voice’?