Energy providers must switch on their customer service to stop us switching suppliers

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It will soon take customers no longer than 24 hours to switch energy suppliers, putting more pressure than ever on firms to prioritise the customer experience.

Ministers have set a goal to increase competition in the energy market by 2018, with a plan to cut the time it takes to switch supplier – which can currently take more than a fortnight – to just 24 hours. Also under review is the Competition and Market Authority’s proposal to put a limit on charges to protect people who do not, or cannot switch providers.

The energy industry could face a similar transition to the banking sector after the introduction of 7-day switching.

If and when these new rules are enforced, customers are going to have a lot more flexibility and impetus to switch suppliers than they did previously. Energy companies will no longer be able to rely on red tape to keep hold of their customers, and will need to fundamentally change the way they approach engagement strategies. Businesses are always looking for ways to stand out, and customer service is the key differentiator in the sector.

Earlier this year a survey from Which? showed that smaller energy companies were outperforming the ‘Big Six’ energy firms in terms of customer service for the sixth year in a row (Ecotricity scored 84 per cent positive reviews by customers, whereas Npower got just 35 per cent). While newer players in the market benefit from a certain level of agility, and are less likely to be held back by legacy systems, it still highlights that larger firms need to continue to modernise to keep up with other industry players. If these laws are implemented, customers are not going to be forgiving, and the smaller firms that are offering their customers a positive experience are going to look far more appealing.

Pre-emptive contact with customers has the potential to prevent confrontation with consumers, keeping them happy and reducing complaints in the process.

Customers want speed, mobility and ease when dealing with a company, and through pre-emptive contact, supported by analytics, this can be achieved. For example, if a customer has just been issued with a bill, this should be presented to the agent before they even pick up the phone, so they are informed and empowered enough to resolve the issue very quickly. Voice analytics can also be used to detect common queries coming into the contact centre; if customers are calling because of an outage, the technology to proactively send SMS to the mobile phones of anyone in the affected area is readily available.

Another solution is to take a look at the self-service strategy; with consumers glued to their mobile devices, they are increasingly expecting organisations to provide them with information in ways that are fast and meet their needs. Offering customers the capability to resolve queries on their own from their devices, without having to go through long-winded phone calls or automated systems, will provide them with the freedom they desire. This will also reduce demand on the contact centre as fewer inbound interactions are taking place, leaving agents and advisors to handle more complex queries.