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Comforting Customers During COVID-19

image credit: ID 74314393 © Elwynn | Dreamstime.com

COVID-19, or Corona as it’s more commonly being called, is certain to present utility customer care teams with a host of challenges. Although it’s impossible to know exactly what’s to come in the coming weeks, or how utility customers will react, it’s important to prepare for the most likely developments and figure out the solutions before the problems arise. 

Communication is the most important word during this pandemic. Many of your customers are scared and confused right now. This is partly due to the reality of our current situation, but it’s also the fault of an overload of bad information. Whether it’s coming from the television, social media, or just  good ol’ word of mouth, there’s no shortage of misinformation out there. It’s your job to cut through the garbage, simplifying your customers’ lives. 

So, what exactly do your customers need to know? This will obviously depend on the utility and region, and everything is subject to change as the virus and the response it inspires change over time. But there are a few changes most utilities around the country have adopted that we can focus on: 

 

  • Customer payment center changes. There’s a good chance, if you haven’t already, that you’ll be paying closing in person payment stations in the near future to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Many customers, especially older ones, rely on this method of bill pay, so you’ll want to warn them ahead of time. You’ll also need to explain how else they can pay. The most painless options for these customers will probably be drive-throughs and drop boxes, but if you’re feeling ambitious, this could be the perfect opportunity to get them signed up for online payments. 

 

  • Suspension of service disconnections. This is one of the utility related developments that’s gotten significant coverage in the mainstream media, but don’t assume everyone knows. Frenzied and probably much poorer than they were two weeks ago, many customers will be scared of losing electricity. Do them a favor and remind them that this is at least one thing they don’t have to worry about right now. 

 

  • Scam alerts. In a crisis like this, you see the best humans are capable of, but also the worst. Scam artists have popped into high gear this week, taking advantage of the environment of confusion to swindle gullible citizens out of their money. You and your team should inform customers to be vigilant and call the utility if they get any texts or other notifications about changes of services, payment schedules, etc. 

How should you inform the customer? This is tricky. As tempting as it is to want to take total control over the information blitz and ‘make sure’ the customer is up to date, that might be self-defeating right now. People’s email inboxes and phones are full of messages from every company they’ve ever dealt with explaining each corporation's response to COVID. I stopped reading them all a long time ago, and I’m certainly not alone. I think it’s better just to make the relevant information as easy to access as possible. Put it on your website’s frontpage, on social media, and consider setting up some COVID specific recorded answers on your telecommunications system. 

 

There’s no reason to panic right now. Take comfort in knowing that the electricity your utility provides is probably one of the few services people will be able to rely on this spring. Make sure your customers know that too.


 

Henry Craver's picture

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Discussions

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Andy Gotlieb on Mar 26, 2020 7:36 pm GMT

Henry, a lot of good points here. And you're exactly right about how informing the customers is going to be difficult, since seemingly every business has put out a statement about its response to COVID-19. The best bet does seem to be social media, the utility website and the telecomm system.

Unfortunately, I'm guessing there's going to be a lot of "collateral damage" from customers who are oblivious or are in denial. I'm not sure if anyone's figured out a way to overcome customer ignorance. I certainly haven't. I suppose the best bet is to promote a consistent message and do the right thing, such as holding off on service disconnections for unpaid bills.

Then again, since we're all in unchartered territory, new responses may prove to be useful.

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