The current changing and challenging circumstances bought about by the coronavirus pandemic have put a strain on many Australian households. In times of uncertainty, people still need access to essential services such as electricity and gas, but how can the retail energy providers manage customers that are facing hardship, while managing their own operational disruptions?
Australia’s energy sector is experiencing the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic while still recovering from the significant challenges caused by the ongoing drought and recent bushfires. These events are testing business resilience on multiple fronts so anticipating and moving swiftly to address any emerging shortcomings is critical.
With the high levels of job losses and business closures driving significant financial hardship; the government, regulatory and community expectations put energy retailers firmly in focus in terms of evaluating how they respond consistently with empathy and effectiveness.
Appropriate financial management while maintaining compliance with increasing regulatory requirements, existing hardship policies and new COVID-19 specific support programs – and having the flexibility to tailor support to individual customers – requires significant effort and careful consideration.
There has already been a significant increase in the number of customers contacting energy retailers seeking payment deferrals and this will rapidly increase in the coming months, as the full cycle of quarterly bills occurs. This increase in deferral requests, will be further compounded by the cooler winter months, and higher levels of energy consumption in homes as many adopt remote working practices.
A number of energy retailers have also seen considerable disruption to service delivery as a result of offshore service centres progressively moving into lock down. This has required business continuity plans to be activated with the on-shoring of call centre operations, but also the establishment of more sustainable flexible working practices and innovative operating models.
As energy retailers face increasing call centre and online interactions, achieving consistency in customer experience across all aspects of the customer lifecycle, as well as consistency across channels, requires an integrated approach to ensure customer commitments are fulfilled.
Businesses need to be prepared to operate under the impact of COVID-19 for many months, or indeed years. With many of the changes in customer behaviour set to become the ‘new normal’, operations will need to adapt to meet these needs.
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