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Today’s EX and CX Investments Help Utilities Manage Customers’ Challenges in 2023

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Bob McCallister's picture
SVP Business Development, Ibex Global Solutions

IBEX Global is a Global BPO Services Provider specializing in Paid Search/SEO Revenue Demand Generation, Contact Center Management and Data Analytics designed to improve our clients overall...

  • Member since 2022
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  • Jan 11, 2023

As we all know, the US Energy Information Administration reports that 20 million US households, or nearly 17% of homes, are currently behind on their energy bills.

Pandemic-related conditions, such as unemployment and late employment recovery, have caused utilities to carry a record number of delinquent accounts. With epic winter storms, still-high unemployment numbers, increasing energy prices, persistent inflation, holiday expenses, and growing household debt creating a potential time-bomb in 2023, our customers face unprecedented risk of missing payments in their core household bills.  With these customer conditions in mind, and a likely recession arriving sometime this year, utilities face new obstacles to overcome with their at-risk and delinquent customers. 

In this article, I suggest a few ways that utilities can make modest investments in employee experience and customer experience keep us prepared to manage some of the obvious challenges our customers will face in 2023.  
Being Prepared Means Preparing Your Teams 
“To be sure of a great Customer Experience we believe in investing in the Employee Experience, to invest the most in the people who touch our customers at those critical moments in the customer journey that can make or break customer satisfaction and loyalty. EX investment delivers CX returns.”  

- Carl O’Neil, Executive Vice President, ibex CX 

Good EX Makes Good CX 

By investing in the employee experience, you can ensure more consistent empathetic customer experiences, even when external pressures build. In fact, MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) found that organizations with great EX have much higher success in CX and other critical business KPIs than those that don’t prioritize employee experience. 

Arming your team members who touch customers at critical and sensitive junctures in the customer journey means your company will be best prepared to manage those challenges and foster the best possible customer experiences during these times.  

Become A Trusted Source For Information & Support 

Despite news reports of skyrocketing energy costs and high heating bills, most customers may not know that payment assistance may be available – and especially where to find it. Information about who qualifies or how to apply can be difficult to find and confusing to 
decipher.  Customers naturally turn to their most trusted resource, their utility, for information about this type of information.  

To deliver peak value for customers at this critical moment, utilities should make it as easy as possible for customers to understand what assistance may be available and make it easy to apply. Having information on the main website that’s easy to find, written in plain language, and translated in the languages most spoken by your customer base will help customers find help before they get into financial risk with their bills.  For example, instead of just listing the often obscurely written text of a government document related to an assistance program document, a supportive website can summarize a program in plain language, provide helpful FAQ’s style bullet points to highlight important points, and use a hyperlink to take customers directly to the site to start their application.

But even when your website is easy to navigate, some customers might not know what is available to them. Training your Billing and Payments team members to have special knowledge about these programs or enabling them to help customers complete their applications where approved goes the extra mile to get customers enrolled in assistance programs and reduce costly collections assignments.  This extra support demonstrates to customers that their utility understands their needs and delivers where that value is most needed, as well as avoids a collections nightmare.

Personalize the Support 
Customers will face more financial pressure in the new year and have more questions about their payment options. Often, customers at risk of payment challenges with their utility bills also face issues with other essential expenses including food and housing. Utilities can benefit by partnering with community-based organizations, state and local programs, nonprofits, and other services to connect customers with payment assistance programs – and training agents to be aware of these common issues and connect customers to relevant programs. 

Georgia Power offers one of the most useful pages I’ve seen online to help customers connect with local support teams for a variety of resources quickly and easily and without the overly bureaucratic digital experience that often keeps customers from getting the help they need. If customers do have to go to collections, it’s critical that the experience be fully communicated and handled by top-quality teams trained in empathy, compassion, and professionalism that can personally connect with them on a human-to-human level.  

Pre-collections and collections calls require a sophisticated set of negotiation skills, operational dexterity, and the proficiency to collect with sensitivity to ensure the preservation of that customer’s return to good standing in the future. That unique relationship most utilities manage as the incumbent service provider makes billing and service delivery challenges even more sensitive.  

Preparing for the Challenges Ahead

In order to ensure you are enabled to provide that level of personal empathetic support, consider the following: 

  • Training Proficiency: Are you armed with training resources for negotiation strategies and best practices to optimize pre-collections, pre-paid enrollment, and payment assistance plans as a counterweight to collections impacts? If not, find a partner with training and development experience in pre-collections who can specialize in building those skills ahead of the inevitable pressures this year. 
  • Updated Tech Stack: Is your technology pressure tested for above average customer engagement in multiple channels as more customers reject self-service for sensitive topics like collections and opt to call in for payment and credit-related issues?  
  • Intelligent Contact Center Optimization: Can you leverage tools for call routing, chatbot support and intelligent routing linked to customer information systems to minimize impacts to your contact centers, or do you need surge capacity to manage the expected increases in customer support in 2023? Consult a partner for a capacity and technology review to learn more about hybrid programs or surge capacity to augment your existing programs intelligently, giving utilities options that haven’t been available in the past. 
  • Leadership Buy-in: Do you have a deep bench at the leadership level, especially among managers and supervisors who can be effective coaches in the long term? 
  • Recruitment as a Driver For Success: Are your recruiters ready to find qualified talent 
    quickly if your customer service KPI start to show the influx of pressure sensitive volume? Have you identified the stars on your customer support team who you can cross-train for billing calls to free up time for your critical services team to field the sensitive pre-collections calls when that first wave of volume hits?  
  • Create A Knowledge Base: Are teams armed with the knowledge and training to 
    prepare them to provide support and assistance to customers in need, and have internal support to relieve the pressure of those high-risk engagements? Now is the time to start identifying those stars on our teams, finding partners for surge capacity, and training partners to help bolster our programs so we are best prepared for when the inevitable challenges strike in the new year.  
  • Invest In Your Employees: When employees have a positive experience, they are more likely to provide the empathy and sensitivity needed in sensitive customer interactions. Investments in the EX ensure success in the CX for utilities and their customers. 


We may not know exactly when those calls will hit our switch, but every indicator tells us customers will begin to feel more financial pressure this year. Industries like banking and healthcare see the early data that show the customer base under pressure and have been making investments to prepare for a wave of billing and collections challenges to those industries.   Armed with this useful information and coupled with insights from EX and CX experts, we can make timely adjustments to our programs to be ready for our customers this year.  Utilities have the enviable position of trust with their customers and the opportunity to deliver a lot of support to at-risk customers at the most critical junctions in the customer journey.  Modest investments in employee experience and customer experience make a strong impression on both constituents with high returns if we take advantage of the warning signs and take the time to prepare. 


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 11, 2023

Georgia Power offers one of the most useful pages I’ve seen online to help customers connect with local support teams for a variety of resources quickly and easily and without the overly bureaucratic digital experience that often keeps customers from getting the help they need. 

This sounds like a great example of the utilities following where customer expectations in other sectors have now bled into the utility-customer relationship. People expect they can get personalized and direct help from Amazon, from their cell provider, and so of course that extends to their utility company (especially because whenever a customer is going out of their way to contact the utility, it's likely a very high priority item for them!).

It's great to see the utilities moving in this direction

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jan 13, 2023

Bob - first, welcome to the community.  This article could not be more timely.  In fact, I just posted a comment on another post about the status of unpaid bills dating back to the start of the pandemic- and you answered this right out of the gate - wow, 17%.  I think with the looming recession, this is probably only going to go up!  


Great post - I look forward to reading more from you in the near future. 



Mark Wilkinson's picture
Mark Wilkinson on Jan 16, 2023

Terrific post.  It's so important to consider the investment we make in the people who connect most closely with our customers.  Accenture had a model for investment that prioritized Employee Experience + Customer Experience + Sound Operational and Financial Management Yielded Shareholder Value, that the responsibility to shareholders begins with responsibility to employees so that the business can best support its customers, and all other work flows from there.  It was developed in coordination with Disney, no surprise, but makes sense for nearly every business.  Thanks for the reinforcement.

Bob McCallister's picture
Thank Bob for the Post!
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