Since the energy crisis hit Europe, we’ve seen numerous headlines about the overload of calls to energy companies’ customer service departments. Angry and frustrated customers are being put on hold, sometimes for hours at a time. In this blog post, we take a closer look at some of the challenges energy companies have faced, along with the kinds of challenges that lie ahead. We also look at the most effective course of action when the pressure is on.
For energy companies, the burden on customer service is just one, albeit very serious, aspect of how they have been impacted by the energy crisis. To relieve some of the pressure, they have had to reallocate talent and ask people within their own organization to grab a headset and start taking customer calls. Besides the employees who have had to fill that gap, many of those working in other departments have had to shift focus in order to quickly find solutions to the problems that have affected customers.
The main thing that customers wanted to know is simply: why is my electricity price so high? Initially, energy companies received a lot of calls about this. But as time passed, pressure subsided and the number of calls started to drop. At this point, most customers have a basic understanding of the many interrelated factors that have resulted in such high electricity prices. They understand that it’s not a consequence of them, as individuals, having consumed an excessive amount of electricity.
Partial Payments and Deferrals Create New Challenges
At the same time, a large amount of incoming calls were from customers who couldn’t afford to pay these high bills. Accounting departments have thus had to look into ways of setting up installment plans, something they’ve not had to do at this scale in the past. In ordinary circumstances, offering deferrals or partial payment options wouldn’t be much of an issue, since they typically only have to deal with a few such cases each month. But with so many now asking for it, energy companies have had to make carefully balanced decisions so that they don’t wind up in financial difficulty themselves.
Coming up with purely financial solutions to facilitate partial payments and deferrals is just part of the challenge. The actual processing of invoices can create additional headaches for customer service departments that are already overburdened. Once a decision has been made about partial payment or deferral, the due date and amount needs to be changed, which is something that traditional invoice formats (like paper invoices or PDFs) do not make easy. End customers themselves must remember how much they’ve paid, their outstanding balance, and how much they need to pay next time.
Most of us have a short memory when it comes to things like this. Customers typically need reminders about changed due dates and unpaid balances. Typically, the easiest way for them to find out what they owe, and when, is by calling customer service. The call is valuable to the customer, of course, but for the customer service department, it is time and resources that could have been spent on other things.
Information Sharing Causes Difficulties
The marketing and communication departments have also been under a great deal of pressure. First and foremost, they’ve had to make sure that customers are informed about the prevailing situation, along with finding the best channels for reaching as many people as possible. The risk of churn also rises when customers start investigating other suppliers who might be able to offer them a better deal. Accordingly, marketing departments have had to identify new, preventive strategies for retaining their customers.
Many good initiatives, like posting FAQs on the website or sending informational emails/letters have been taken since the energy crisis started. The problem, however, is that it’s difficult to know whether or not people are actually reading the information. Nor has it been possible to measure the impact of such initiatives.
Interactive Invoices Make Things Easier for Energy Companies
Traditionally, invoices have been an untapped communication channel, and very few energy companies can utilize them to their full potential. Nevertheless, invoices are something that end customers see and take care of, in one way or another, every month. With an interactive invoice format, important information can be relayed to customers, and this information can be the first thing recipients encounter when they open their invoice. Links to more detailed information can even be included on the invoice.
Smart invoices can be changed and updated in real time, making it much clearer and more traceable for the recipient to see how much they have left to pay on the outstanding amount. Invoice recipients can also see their payment history, including any past changes to invoice due dates or amounts. This avoids confusion and worry for customers, which is often the reason they feel the need to contact customer service and double check their invoice details.
Would you like to know more about interactive invoice formats or how you can best use invoices as a channel for communication? Get in touch!