Supporting vulnerable customers: A tech blueprint for utilities

3rd June 2024

Richard HigginBotham

by Richard Higginbotham

“Get everything you need via our new app” – the invitation sounds delightfully simple. But do vulnerable customers feel marginalised? And what’s the best way for utilities companies to meet their needs with excellent customer service?

How many of your customers are ‘vulnerable’?

Just recently, the Customer Think business community reported on some surprising research. Just 17% of customers in the UK self-identify as vulnerable. However, it estimated as many as 67% of customers could potentially be classified as vulnerable when assessed against the Financial Conduct Authority’s criteria.

The website cites one potential reason for the disparity: Not everyone wishes to identify as vulnerable; they may be concerned about social acceptance and fear of social exclusion.

So, if some vulnerable people don’t appear on your radar readily, how can you easily identify, engage and communicate with them?

This presents another major challenge for utility companies.

Achieving excellent customer service

Already, UK retail suppliers have a number of mandatory responsibilities towards vulnerable customers. They need a vulnerability strategy and key performance indicators to measure outcomes. Distribution network providers have something similar.

But supporting all types of customers with the right contact channels and delivering excellent customer service brings significant challenges and complexity:

  • Tech-savvy customers will expect intuitive apps and be able to resolve their own issues 24/7
  • Other people will struggle with understanding self-service and they need alternative services
  • In-house IT resources are usually in high demand already and outside developers are expensive
  • Some customers are digitally deprived and can’t get online

It’s also worth remembering that needs and expectations will evolve – and so will mandatory responsibilities. There’s a danger that utilities companies try to satisfy both with a tick-box exercise and their tech roadmap becomes out of date quickly.

So, what’s the answer?

Opting for a unified platform

Stitching together multiple systems and processes is hard enough to begin with – and trying to enable them all for constant change can be a nightmare.

However, there’s a strong case for utilities companies adopting a unified platform for customer contact — so they can deliver excellent customer service that adapts easily. A single platform enables agility, removes change overheads associated with integrating multiple technologies and allows for more inclusive experiences.

A platform that ‘plays nicely’ with existing technologies means you don’t have to remove what’s already in place. You can consolidate and rationalise over time.

From a vulnerable customer’s perspective, each interaction becomes seamless. Whether they choose to connect with you by app, website, chat or voice, they can get issues resolved without being asked to shift channels.

With a silo-free automation and digital engagement platform, customer service teams are empowered with all the right information at their fingertips. Enquiries are faster to resolve and frustration reduces for everyone.

Keeping pace with evolving needs

Our Liberty platform has rapid development capabilities included. This means you can adapt your channels easily to allow for evolving services, expectations and requirements.

Low-code technology, allied with the latest contact-centre and customer engagement capabilities, is a game-changer here. It allows your customer service teams to create and adapt services themselves, quickly and easily with drag-and-drop tools.

If one vulnerable group or another is having specific challenges, you can rapidly build and deploy without needing extra IT resources. And if there’s an emergency, you can respond at speed, offering a range of support across channels to customers with a variety of needs.

You can also make it easier for vulnerable people to identify themselves using low-code tools. You can design thoughtful services that make people feel more confident registering their needs and accessing additional support.

Related articles

Utilities, bills and empathy: How CX tech can help

Delivering good customer service in the utilities sector has become more challenging as many people struggle with the cost of living. But, technology can help brands to become more empathetic and improve customer experience.

Boost performance in utilities

Find out how UK Power Networks used the power of low-code to revolutionise many services for customers, including innovation around its priority services register. This is a great example of excellent customer service in the utilities sector.