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How have the relationships between customers and utilities companies changed since COVID-19?

How have the relationships between customers and utilities companies changed since COVID-19?

Nearly four months on since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the UK, it is evident that the relationship between utilities companies and their customers has evolved significantly as a direct result of the pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been tuning in to Utility Week’s #AskUsAnything webinar series, with views shared by a range of experts, to better understand how the sector has been impacted and what the next steps are for utilities organisations. 

One of the biggest impacts discussed throughout the series was the acceleration of a digital transformation. As with other sectors, the utilities industry had to move whole customer service teams to remote working within a very short space of time, whilst also ensuring that the level of service provided to customers is not compromised.

With the relationship with customers forced to become more digital-based, Steve Crabb, former director of consumer vulnerability at Centrica, highlighted the importance of ensuring that nobody is left behind, and recognising that there are still many customers who are not digitally engaged and whose voices must still be heard.

As mentioned in our previous blog – A view from the regulators – there’s growing emphasis that vulnerable customers need to be at the front of mind in both the water and energy industries. Due to the substantial economic impact of the virus, there are likely to be large numbers of individuals who now fall into the ‘vulnerable’ category solely due to the impact of coronavirus, whether due to their health or finances.

This appears to have raised some fundamental questions across the industry; is now the time for a joint Priority Services Register? What learnings can be taken from terminology used to identify those who have been vulnerable in the health pandemic? What more can be done to ensure that vulnerable customers receive the support they require both short and longer term? Rachel Fletcher, CEO of Ofwat, shared with Utility Week that she felt strongly that the crisis will help utilities companies to focus their minds on how to make it easier for vulnerable customers to get the support they need.

Although the water and energy industries are sitting at different stages with regards to business planning, it is evident that COVID-19 and its wider impacts will be long lasting across the utilities sector. Rachel Fletcher echoed our thoughts in that it is more important than ever for utilities companies to continue to engage with their customers during business planning.

There is also a need to give attention to potential shifts in opinions due to the health crisis and its impact on a range of individual circumstances, including affordability of household bills. Depending on the topics of previous engagement, there should be consideration of whether there’s a requirement to revisit and possibly re-conduct important pieces of research, to ensure the findings you’re using for regulatory planning continue to be valid and representative of your customers’ views.

At Explain, we are experts in delivering insight to support business planning and we recognise the challenges that the industry faces as we move towards a post-COVID-19 world. Get in touch to find out how we can support you to engage during this period and ensure that you’re listening to the voice of the customer at info@explainresearch.co.uk or on 0191 261 5261.