Blog 24 January 2022

Climbing energy prices and Universal Credit change – providers must innovate to keep up with growing payment support requests

by Yad Jaura

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In today’s volatile economic climate, more people than ever are finding themselves in financial difficulty – with soaring energy prices and the collapse of several providers adding to concern for many. In fact, a recent survey revealed that 17% of households are already struggling to pay for their energy bills and for over a quarter of households, a rise of more than £10 a month in energy bills could drive them into debt. Now, with changes to Universal Credit coming into effect, further financial strain could be on the cards. Whilst the new taper rate change is said to mean that nearly two million families will keep on average an extra £1,000 a year, this is still less than the £1,040 a year that came from the recently scrapped £20-a-week uplift.  

Although missed payments and managing payment support are becoming a norm for all energy providers, with the recent soaring prices, their contact centres are going to feel the pressure. Energy companies must therefore work with customers to make accessing payment support and processes as seamless and easy as possible. Organisations that overlook this, run the risk of being demoted in the customer’s eyes when it comes to the mountain of bills.

The repercussions that the soaring prices have had on energy providers and contact centres should not be underestimated. Though hard to predict, these challenges can be resolved if providers implement the right infrastructure to manage the repayments process.


The difficulties met by utility providers


Whilst consumers and businesses are struggling, utility providers, which keep our nation running, will do so too if unable to recoup payments. Unfortunately, however, the reality is that current repayment systems aren’t often up to scratch. Many companies require customers to print off and complete multi-page forms, disclosing their current circumstances to arrange a suitable payment plan. As well as being overly complex, this process can take weeks, if not months, to process, incurring further delays for both the customer and provider. Instead, utility providers must put customers at the centre of their processes – offering a range of options that work for customers, including self-service methods.

There is also the issue of changing government guidance for utility providers. Many are currently being encouraged to consider payment holidays and payment matching, whilst also helping customers pay their bills through the Warm Home Discount Scheme, social tariffs, and other affordability initiatives. This adds extra complexity to existing processes.


Innovate and automate to ease the burden


To overcome these challenges, utility providers must implement innovative solutions that allow them to build automated, digital platforms that not only make it easier for them to manage payment support processes internally, but also improve the customer experience to keep customers onside. Flexible, quick-to-implement Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) technologies, such as low-code, can help utility providers respond with agility, enabling them to build platforms accessible to consumers from a range of devices to access information, check bills, payment statuses, and set up payment plans. Low-code enables businesses to easily make changes to a process dependent on changing government guidance, due to its agile nature.

When combined with robotic process automation (RPA) technologies, systems built on low-code can also help to gather information from customer relationship management (CRM) systems about customers who are having problems with payment. RPA technology is particularly beneficial as it can be implemented over existing systems and data, minimising the disruption of current IT infrastructure.


A longer-term solution


Being able to modify processes quickly and simply is an important requirement in today’s volatile climate. Moving forward, utility providers must look towards a long-term solution that can help both customers and their own bottom line. Again, low-code technology can help here as it provides utility companies with the ability to easily implement change, adapt and scale internal and external processes according to business needs, all while keeping the customer at the centre of their thinking.


Supporting customers through financial uncertainty


As we continue to navigate the further economic uncertainty, managing payment support will be a significant issue across many sectors, including credit card companies, landlords, banks and legal companies. The objectives for all organisations stay the same – they should be able to provide a unified customer experience, allowing customers to manage repayments smoothly and easily. By enabling a seamless process, providers can not only help their customers tackle debt, but themselves too. Now more than ever, businesses must ensure their contact staff are equipped with an offering that integrates with a variety of communication platforms – from social media to well-coded chatbots, especially as two in five customers favour the self-service platforms, rather than telephoning a call centre.  Having an understanding of the platforms customers have access to or would rather use, enables companies to manage the process of recovering essential payments in the most effective and sensitive manner during these turbulent times.


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