Customer service has always been a hot topic in the energy retail sector, and the pandemic has shifted it into even sharper focus. Consumers have always relied on their energy providers to help them heat and light their homes, refrigerate their food, cook their meals and power their TVs and entertainment systems. Today, as the country remains in lockdown, these have become 24/7 requirements – and millions of people also are also relying on the grid to power the PCs that allow them to work from home. In short, an essential service has become even more essential.
Energy companies not only have a regulatory imperative to supply their customers; they also have a moral imperative to support them through this crisis. However, as demands on the network increase, with the average domestic customer using 25% more electricity and 17% more gas than usual, economic conditions mean that customers are also less likely to be able to pay their bills. With price caps in place, retailers can’t simply raise prices to compensate for the expected increase in nonpayment, making it increasingly difficult to keep their balance sheets healthy.
To provide the reliable service customers need to help them through the current crisis, energy retailers need to find a smarter way to balance their books. They need to know who their most vulnerable customers are, who is likely to default, and how they can best support each customer to get their payments back on track.
This will be a challenge for both the large, established energy retailers and the smaller challenger brands. Retailers from both groups were scrambling to meet the ever-increasing customer service expectations of a more informed and demanding set of consumers. Many of their customer service initiatives centred on providing a better digital experience through online and mobile channels, which in retrospect might seem like a focus on style over substance. However, these new digital channels can also potentially give providers access to more data about their customers and open up new possibilities for customer interaction – both of which will play a crucial role in helping retailers respond to current market needs and conditions.
The missing piece
If providers have enough data to understand their customers’ behaviour, and also have the means of communicating with those customers and influencing their behaviour, there’s just one piece missing: an intelligent decision-making capability to sit in the middle and assess the best response to each customer’s individual needs. Since many retailers are operating at a scale with hundreds of thousands or even millions of customer accounts, they simply don’t have the resources to devote human decision makers to this task. Instead, they need to rely on technology.
At SAS, we use the term “intelligent decisioning” to describe the type of technology needed to fill this gap. By using advanced analytical models to examine customer data and make accurate predictions about how much energy each consumer will need and how likely they are to fall into arrears, retailers can automatically guide customers to better outcomes and ensure that the most vulnerable are protected – while still taking robust steps to combat fraud.
We can help you find the right path forward to embed intelligent decisioning into your processes, understand consumer behaviour, and make the right choices to protect both your business and your customers. You can find out more by downloading our white paper on customer service and credit risk scoring in utilities here.