We’re facing tumultuous times as of late. Global warming and the increasing necessity for a new sustainable life are pressing issues to tackle head on, and fast. But at the same time, we’re seeing the general population plunged into vulnerable states as multiple crises have shaken our finances and old habits.
To help us learn more, we’ve spoken to two experts at Insite Energy – part of the heating and energy industry. Karen Chamberlain is the Customer Service Team Leader, and Anthony Coates-Smith, is the Managing Director.
Anyone can become vulnerable at any time, but not everyone will feel comfortable sharing this straight away. Is there a way that customer service teams can easily identify customers who are vulnerable, or who may require tailored communications?
Karen: It can be helpful for customer service teams to use the acronym ‘CARE’. This can help to ensure they are identifying any issues which may affect an individual to understand communications or advice. CARE stands for:
- Comprehend: is the individual following what is being conveyed? If not, could the message be simplified?
- Assess: is the individual understanding what is being said? If not, try slowing down.
- Retain: is the information being digested by the individual? If not, could it be broken down into smaller chunks?
- Evaluate: check the individual’s understanding by following up with further questions to clarify whether what has been discussed, is fully understood.
While it’s important to be mindful of call targets, it’s also worth remembering that these tend to be based on average figures – time spent where it’s needed is more important. This can be everything from simply encouraging a caller to take their time or to get a drink if they need to take a moment. Not only can this help to calm them down, but it also means the information being offered is more likely to be understood.
It’s a fine balance between ensuring we can give these vulnerable individuals the time they need while ensuring other customer queries can be responded to. Ultimately, it must come down to personal judgement and team members feeling empowered and supported enough to make that call.
Similarly, any of your customer service staff could also be vulnerable. How can you look out for them and keep them motivated while they are offering their support to customers in similar situations?
Karen: It’s important to nurture a good relationship with customer service staff. Take time to talk and share information with them; ensure that they have as many answers as possible at their fingertips; and note any change in behaviours as soon as possible.
Where possible, a variation of tasks can help avoid things feeling overwhelming, as well as ensuring enough time is spent on training and coaching. These steps all help staff members to feel supported and in a robust position to handle challenging calls, whilst potentially being in the same position themselves. Regular meetings, and 1-to-1s ensure that the opportunity is there to talk and to be listened to.
Likewise, how should training for customer service staff be adapted to the crisis – both the current energy crisis, and the cost-of-living? What sort of programmes should be adopted?
Karen: If an agent is finding calls challenging or struggling, we support with Empathy Training and positive reinforcement of good behaviours demonstrated. There is extra support for agents who feel their own mental health may be affected in the form of coaching modules and training sessions. This gives them the time to speak about how they are feeling or how a call has made them feel. Then we can set action steps, like what could be done differently next time if faced with a similar situation.
High call volumes can be daunting. But having open and honest conversations can help the CSA feel supported and listened to.
The UK government has set out to reach net zero by 2050. How have these plans changed the strategies and principles of energy companies to stay on this target? And how has customer support and journeys adapted in line with these new strategies?
Anthony: In terms of what the move towards Net Zero means for CX, the answer is a lot. The cost of these changes will ultimately be borne by customers themselves. The wheels are in motion, in fact, as many residents will already be indirectly investing into sinking funds – through charges and provisions in their rent, service charge, or in some cases through their daily standing charges. Though they may not be acutely aware of this. Consequently, this ensures there is money in place to reinvest in new technologies, when the time comes.
What’s crucial in this respect is transparency and education. Consumers must be educated as to why these costs are occurring. This knowledge is becoming increasingly important because there is a proportion of consumers who are also keen to know what those responsible for delivering their energy are doing in turn.
While this is certainly a minority of customers at present, it’s a group that is rapidly growing. Energy companies and heat providers must be ready to answer these questions from a Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) standpoint, not only from a financial and planning perspective.
Particularly in the build-to-rent (BTR) market, where purpose-built housing is designed from the outset for rent rather than sale and are professionally managed by the owner or operator, we’ve noticed that attention to Net Zero implications is being used as a key point of difference between competitors. If options are, on paper, identical, CSR policy on decarbonisation can and does swing consumers.
What do you think is the best way for companies from all industries to tackle the fight for net zero?
Anthony: In all industries, it’s important for individual corporations to do their bit. Look at what your organisation can do, within its scope of influence.
For some organisations, this will be greater than others. But whatever the size or reach, the fight for Net Zero shouldn’t be left to someone else.
If everyone does their bit, this will inevitably add up to a lot. Take responsibility to play your part.
Insite Energy’s Peterborough customer support centre is receiving double the volume of calls from people in need of help. Can you offer any advice for those on the frontline of that support?
Karen: My top 5 pieces of advice are:
- Keep calm and take one call at a time on its own merit.
- Take ownership of each call but try not to take any aggressive or difficult calls personally.
- Make sure you take your breaks at regular times, and talk to others, don’t keep your feelings bottled up.
- Feedback any reoccurring issues to your manager, so trends can be identified and dealt with instead of continuing to cause issues for both the agents and tenants.
- Celebrate successes.