Getting on the front foot: key takeaways from the Utility Week Consumer Debt Conference

Topic: Finance & DCAs, Utilities

The main theme of the day was vulnerability: what can be achieved with a proactive and empathetic approach to debt.

Paying off debt
The Utility Week Consumer Debt Conference took place on 16th March, 2017, exploring the challenges utility companies face in developing an effective collections strategy, compliance, and leveraging new technology.
Some extraordinary statistics were revealed by speakers who’ve adopted a digital, self-serve strategy for collecting debt. After their first full year of ‘transformation’, Thames Water announced:

Vulnerable customers

However, the main theme of the day was vulnerability and what the utilities sector is doing to help those who are vulnerable and in debt.

“Vulnerability can be a transient state that affects people at different points in time, or it can have long-term effects. It may be triggered by events such as loss of a job, the onset of disability, or becoming a carer.” – Citizens Advice

An unexpected change in circumstances can prompt people to bury their heads in the sand and / or become embarrassed about their current situation, especially those who’ve previously had the finances to pay bills.
Moreover, the customer might be unaware of what help is available, so it’s important for the company to whom the debt is owed to proactively engage with them to stop the situation getting worse.
It was really refreshing to see companies being proactive on this subject, or as Iain Pilling (Head of Income Domestic Retail – United Utilities) kept referencing, getting on the front foot!
In practice, being proactive means:

  • Upskilling staff to ensure empathy is portrayed when speaking with vulnerable customers
  • Placing qualifying customers on special ‘social tariffs’ to help get back on their feet
  • Never disconnecting supply to the most vulnerable, despite potentially being in arrears.

How technology can support an empathetic approach to debt collection

Vulnerable customers utilities SMSThe immediacy and personal feel of SMS means it lends itself as a channel to show empathy and to guide the vulnerable customer to information that may help them.
If there are schemes or tariffs that are available for these customers, then a proactive SMS could save weeks of non-contact and show the customer that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Obviously you’ve limited space in a text message, and that’s where partnering SMS with a mobile web app can deliver an exceptional customer experience and great outcomes.
Using rich media – video, imagery, even just a thoughtful colour scheme – can make the message appear warmer, while giving the customer the opportunity to sign up there and then to vulnerability schemes, or request a call back with a specialist member of the team.
The added benefit of a solution like Esendex’s Mobile Journeys is that they’re tailored for a mobile user, and remove much of the friction associated with accessing traditional websites via a mobile phone.
Features including pre-filled forms, progress bars and touchscreen friendly interactions all contribute towards improved engagement rates.
We’re here to help you reduce the burden of debt on a vulnerable customer, while balancing the commercial needs of your stakeholders, so please contact me or any member of the team on 0345 356 5758, or email [email protected] to learn more.

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