Skip to main content

Article 5 min read

A CX challenge: 3 ways utility companies can invest in their customer service

Discover three different ways utility companies can invest in their customer service to help them navigate through peak periods.

By Lilia Krauser, Staff Writer

Last updated February 23, 2024

For the past year, the rise of utility bills has crept into most of our daily conversations–whether they be with friends, families, or even colleagues. Plus, we’re constantly receiving media alerts, with the latest hot topic of consumer energy bills set to increase yet again in the UK. This has led many consumers across the country to experience ‘fuel stress’, or stress related to the increase of utility bills.

Unfortunately, many companies might not be able to control their energy prices, largely due to post-pandemic uncertainty–the war in Russia and Ukraine as well as our dependence on fossil fuel. With these price increases, many stressed customers will reach out trying to understand why their bills have become so expensive, which can lead to an overwhelmed customer service centre. The good news for energy companies is that by investing in your customer service, you can avoid overwhelming service teams and leave your customers satisfied.

Many smaller suppliers had gotten that message, and had started to invest in ways to smoothen their customers’ digital experience, such as through apps, online account maintenance, and responsive customer service teams. However, due to difficult market conditions such as the rising price of natural gas, several smaller suppliers collapsed over the course of 2022, leaving their customers to be acquired by larger companies.

As a result, larger utility companies now have more customers than ever before, with a customer service team that hasn’t proportionately changed in size. And, it’s very likely that their new customers might have a question or two, especially about their new suppliers’ processes (i.e. higher bills, account maintenance etc.). By being proactive, offering self-service options and investing in automation tools (i.e. chabots), larger retail utility companies will be able to keep up with customers’ expectations, and stay on top of their competition.

Let’s explore three different ways utility companies can invest in their customer service, especially during peak periods.

  1. It’s time to get proactive

    With 22 per cent of customers barely making ends meet, and a further 10 per cent in danger of not being able to pay their bills according to PwC, it’s fair to say that an unexpected high utility bill will lead these customers to call their suppliers angry, stressed, and frustrated. In order to circumvent this, these same companies must take a proactive approach to communicate higher bills–on the right channels.

    In this case, being proactive means reaching out to your customers ahead of their bills being deducted from their accounts. The challenge here is, knowing which channels your customers actually use, as they must all be able to access that kind of information on the channels of their choice. This means that companies must invest in ways to gather customer data, as some groups of customers might prefer a channel that isn’t very popular with another. For instance, almost a third of Gen Z feels very comfortable using social media as a channel to contact companies, against only 10 per cent of customers aged 55 and above.

    Using traditional channels to contact your customers won’t be enough anymore, especially to warn them about a potential price increase. Investing in understanding your customers’ behaviours on different channels–especially favoured channels such as social media and SMS–will be key to helping you prevent a surge in customer service requests.

  2. Empowering your customers through self-service

    Now that your customers are aware that their bills are about to go up, what’s next? Your customers might panic and call customer service, or they may rather solve their issue themselves, without having to contact customer service.

    The key to understanding exactly what your customers are looking for lies–again–in gathering customer data. What are the most popular keywords? What are the most common questions? The most common issues? With access to this data, companies can create content that will be relevant and helpful to their customers as they’re looking to solve their issues. Additionally, it’s also vital for energy and water suppliers to provide personalised data on consumer usage available in their accounts, so that customers can also keep an eye on their consumption and make the necessary changes.

    enercity, one of the largest German energy suppliers, leads the way when it comes to self-service. This supplier uses Zendesk Guide’s reporting feature to gather data from their tickets and search queries to help them build and improve their knowledge base, adapt keywords to help topics and proactively address common customer issues. With this type of strategy, energy/water suppliers empower their customers to solve their issues by themselves, relieving customer service teams.

  3. Automation is a service agent’s best friend

    As exceptional as your help centre can be, it’s not a guarantee that all of your customers will have scanned through it, or that they’ve found what they’re looking for. As they’re about to contact customer service, especially during peak times, agents won’t be able to be everywhere at once. This is where the use of automation tools like chatbots come in, as they’re a great way to help customers with simple, and solvable issues.

    Many customers are growing more comfortable interacting with chatbots. According to CX Trends Report 2023, 77 per cent say that AI/bots are helpful for simple issues, and a further 67 per cent believe bots often provide the correct information. Investing in chatbots allows customers to solve simple issues, while service agents focus on complex, higher-value tasks, such as customer issues that can’t be solved with an automated response.

    Chatbots aren’t the only automated tool out there, but they are certainly the most common when it comes to customer service. Other uses of automation can include notifying agents when an assigned ticket remains unsolved for a certain period of time or closing tickets after a certain amount of days after they’ve been marked as solved.

Most companies, especially energy and water suppliers, will experience customer service request surges, especially in today’s uncertain environment. Having the right tools in place to help, communicate and empower your customers will set you apart from your competition and help you build long-term positive relationships with your customers.

Related stories

5 min read

Humans x chatbots: How this winning combination best serves banks

The customer journey in banking has drastically changed in recent years. The days of visiting a…

5 min read

3 ways AI integrations are shaping the future of retail

Companies that provide a more compelling retail experience enjoy up to 7 per cent higher sales…


Infographic: Chatbots and AI in the UK

6 min read

Why CX teams need automated privacy tools

Learn how privacy workflow automation promotes stronger data security and increased efficiency for your CX team.