The Energy Crisis and Its Impact on the Contact Centre

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Filed under - Industry Insights,

For almost two years, European contact centres have been dealing with the impacts of the global energy crisis, which has resulted in higher-than-expected costs for households and businesses, and the ever-increasing public scrutiny of energy suppliers.

Following the collapse of 28 different energy suppliers affecting over 2 million customers, and with increasingly frequent intervention from governments and regulators, the landscape for energy contact centres has now significantly changed.

Customers are in their greatest moment of need, and despite the challenges, energy organisations are doing their best to do right by their customers (and agents).

In this article, we will focus on this shift, speak to industry pain points, and provide some recommendations to help navigate the current terrain.

The Shift

The energy crisis  and the resulting costs have had major impacts on energy company contact centres. Typically, energy company contact centre agents have had a role like most, with a good deal of cross-skilling so they can easily pivot to address customer inquiries across a variety of topics and remain compliant with ever-changing regulatory requirements.

Part of the job also falls within specialist areas such as debt collection and disconnections. As this crisis has swelled, the frequency of these escalations and the number of customers in vulnerability has drastically increased – and it goes without saying that such calls are complex and emotional for both agents and customers.

For instance, a customer might be contacted to discuss missed payments (which is certainly not a new call type). However, what is new is the gravity of the situation.

This customer may be in persistent debt because of redundancy, facing increasing costs elsewhere with rising interest rates, and struggling to meet their most basic needs such as rental and mortgage costs.

Given the level of vulnerability, the threat of a meter disconnection or switch to pre-payment could very well take the customer to the breaking point.

The Challenges

Despite these shifts, agents and team leaders are still expected to meet certain KPI targets. The operational measures we see most within the energy sector are customer centric, such as Customer Satisfaction, First Contact Resolution, and Complaints Volumes – alongside multiple compliance and quality-related metrics.

Maintaining these high performance standards and customer satisfaction is, however, perhaps easier said than done.

With an increased volume of contacts flowing into energy contact centres, we have also seen rapid increases in outsourcing for most transactional inquiries, such as meter readings and appointment bookings.

In part, this is because internal staff want to have more control over their capability to be able to deal with the most challenging customer interactions.

Though in reality and despite the right intention, there are challenges in this area as well, since calls are no longer being answered by long-tenured agents with years of experience supporting these diverse customer bases.

Rather, and given record levels of low unemployment in the UK,  contact centre agents are recruited from increasingly younger generations and might not be able to truly empathise with their customers’ circumstances.

This lack of understanding and empathy creates additional emotional difficulty for both the agent and the customer, therefore lowering trust and satisfaction commensurately. The loss of longer-tenured and experienced employees is primarily due to high attrition rates, which are rising for both long-term employees and new hires as the crisis continues.

Another challenge for agents is the amount of continual training that is needed. Given the ever-changing regulatory landscape, there has been a marked increase in the frequency of training for agents; additionally, internal communications to agents have increased exponentially over the past months.

There are also constant changes to price capping, with more planned, which agents must stay on top of. In addition to all of this, there are increasingly complex product offerings with a sustained focus on green and renewable energy.

In short, given the nature of customer interactions, the agent training requirements, and the human factor, today’s energy company contact centre roles are much more complicated than in the past, and compared to other contact centre roles . But there are ways to make things a bit easier for contact centre teams with technology.

Recommendations

While this crisis has created challenges, we are living in a time where there are incredibly effective solutions and methodologies that can help ease the burden and help elevate the employee experience – and in turn, help keep customers happy. Below are a few recommended practices and things to consider:

Focus on the “Human” in “Human Resource.”

Agents are human and have only so much capacity to take on others’ stress in addition to their own, underscoring the importance of wellness checks and gauging overall employee sentiment.

Enabling agents to report their wellbeing will alert supervisors as to who might need additional support. Additionally, listening to the voice of the employee through surveys and other means will help leadership understand overall sentiment and will help better inform decisions around the employee experience.

Consider Implementing AI-Powered Microlearning.

With the sheer amount of initial and overall training development needed, as well as the increase in policy and company updates, it is critical to continually train and reinforce that knowledge.

With microlearning, agents receive “bite-sized” training modules that can be completed within the flow of work to reinforce training and fight the “forgetting curve.” AI truly personalizes the experience, with gaps in knowledge or performance triggering delivery, to ensure that learning is relevant and delivered when needed.

Leverage AI

Creating training materials for the frontline is always a challenge. But in a time of crisis where things keep changing and more material is needed seemingly every day, it is especially difficult to do this efficiently and at scale. Consider leveraging generative AI, such as ChatGPT, to easily and quickly create training materials at scale.

Elevate Coaching Conversations and the Manager Experience.

While we have focused on agents, managers have a big job and are prone to burnout. Ensure that managers have the tools they need to quickly and efficiently prepare for coaching sessions so that these conversations are meaningful, relevant, and result in the best next steps.

This manager toolkit should offer fast insights to help managers prioritize the team members that need the most coaching at that time, and also alert the manager when kudos are needed for performance improvement or a job well done. Finally, support agents and managers alike by providing transparency into progress against agent goals.

Encourage Social Sharing.

Hight attrition guarantees that there will be a constant new crop of employees who might be new to the industry (or often, in their first job). Encourage longer-tenured employees to share their advice and tips with newer employees.

Not only does this help newer employees with their performance, but social sharing also creates a sense of support and community, and camaraderie between employees, helping shape a positive culture and reduce attrition.

Boost Motivation and Morale With Gamification.

Gamification is the application of game-related mechanics (including leaderboards, points, levels, badges, points, rewards, healthy competition between individuals and teams, etc.) into a business context.

In addition to adding an element of fun to work, tying gamification to KPIs and agent goals such as learning taps into intrinsic motivators, keeping employees better engaged for the long term and improving both performance and the customer experience.

Provide Additional Resources for Customers.

Finally, think about what you can do for your customers directly (in addition to providing the best service possible). Energy organisations will vary, but many companies run some type of initiative. For instance, OVO Energy created a multi-million-pound fund that is dedicated to helping its vulnerable customers.

In Summary

The crisis is not over, but there are indications that July 2023 energy bills in the UK should decrease by 17%. While this emergency might be easing a bit, and gas will be cheaper, it will still be unaffordable for many.

Additionally, other aspects will worsen (such as interest rates) and prolong economic uncertainty.  This means that energy company contact centre agents will, unfortunately, have a difficult road ahead.

But we are in a time of technological solutions that can help agents with their work and their interactions with customers.

By elevating the employee experience, even during times of trial, businesses can help retain and strengthen their workforce – and in turn, do well by, and retain, their customers.

This means prioritizing agents’ mental health and wellbeing and providing the needed tools and support to set them up for success, including targeted training, personalised coaching, social sharing, and morale boosters.

This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Centrical – View the Original Article

For more information about Centrical - visit the Centrical Website

About Centrical

Centrical Centrical provides a real-time performance management, microlearning, gamification, coaching, and voice of the employee platform for frontline teams. The solution inspires and personally guides employee success and growth by making every moment actionable.

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Call Centre Helper is not responsible for the content of these guest blog posts. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Call Centre Helper.

Author: Centrical

Published On: 31st Jul 2023
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