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Rising Energy Prices: Handling Customer Complaints in Contact Centres


How can you prepare your team for an inevitable increase in complaints following the rise in UK energy prices?

April 1st marks a steep rise in household energy prices across the UK, with an expected increase of roughly £693 per year for the average customer as Ofgem reviews the cap that energy suppliers can charge consumers. This comes as the cost of living has increased 5%, with real wages yet to catch up.

With this increase reflecting a record rise of 54% in global gas prices and customers often left with little choice of an alternative, it’s easy for this to lead to frustration and when escalated, customer complaints. Ofgem itself describes the increase as “extremely worrying” for larger families and those with less disposable income.

Wholesale costs as part of the cap for the typical dual fuel customer has increased 104% between Winter 21/22 and Summer 2022. As a result, it’s predictable that more and more (of your most vulnerable) customers will be likely to contact your organisation with complaints following the rise. Despite many of these costs being out of your control, it is still just as important that your agents are well-prepared to deal with these complaints in a professional and courteous manner.

In this article we will cover the top tips when it comes to customer complaints, and drill down into how we can provide better coaching and management for agents during a difficult time. This will be vital in not only improving customer experience but helping to reduce stress that agents are likely to face over the coming months.

Remaining compliant, avoiding fines and providing a painless CX during this difficult time for many will be paramount to your business retaining your customers.

Customer complaints 101

There are a few go-to tips when it comes to handling customer complaints, and whilst you may already know some of them it never hurts to keep yourself focused on the most important areas so this information can be passed down to contact centre agents:

  1. Listen to the customer and let them vent. It is important to allow the customer to express their frustration. This not only helps to diffuse the situation but additionally gives you a better understanding of the problem so you can find the best solution.
  2. Be empathetic. Put yourself in the customer's shoes and understand how they are feeling. We wrote a full article on how empathy will improve your customer service, which you can read here.
  3. Offer solutions. Once you have listened to the customer and gained an understanding of their problem, it is time to find a solution. Be sure to provide options that will be the best match with the customers’ needs (a strong Next Best Action software can be of massive help in this scenario).

By keeping these at the front of your mind, you can help to ensure that your contact centre agents are properly prepared for the coming months.

Keeping agents (and managers) on track

From our own client’s data, we can tell you with certainty that specific teams within your contact centres drive the worst customer sentiment (and encourage churn through poor CX). It’s not too tricky to fix once you have the correct procedures and software in place.

So why is this happening? Two parts – Firstly, it’s often due to a lack of standardised training and coaching. Secondly, contact centres often fail to continuously monitor their agents and coaches performance to ensure the whole team is keeping up and decide whether training has been effective. Often managers and leaders are too bogged down in daily administrative processes to interpret data and make more strategic decisions.

The first step in dealing with these problems is to create a coaching standard that all agents follow when they encounter a complaint due to price increases. This coaching process should be detailed with specific instructions on what questions need to be asked, and which scripts or replies should be used during the conversation (e.g., “I'm sorry that’s happened, let me see what I can do to help”).

The second step is to provide extensive training to all agents on this new coaching standard and vitally implement a quality monitoring program that includes regular check-ins with agents to ensure that they are following the new coaching process. This quality monitoring program should also include a system for tracking the metrics that are most relevant to your contact centre to see if these have improved after the new coaching process has been put into place.

Top tip: Avoid using rigid scripts and a policy that insists on strict adherence. Research shows that distressed customers only become more frustrated when they feel as if they aren’t being listened to.

By using software to monitor not just agent performance but the performance of coaches too, you can ensure that no time is being wasted in improving how effectively agents are handling complaints across all teams.

Coaching and performance management software

The use of coaching platforms isn’t uncommon in contact centres, and for good reason. It allows managers to track the progress of their team members and provide feedback and coaching as needed.

Using this kind of software helps keep the entire team up to speed, helping with the important standardisation of coaching across teams that we mentioned earlier. Being able to easily visualise which agents are excelling (and in need of some kudos) versus areas agents are struggling in also provides data on not just how well the team is performing, but how well the coach is managing any performance issues.

Red-carpet your most vulnerable customers

As part of your compliance processes, it’s important that you aren’t only handling explicit complaints, but also identifying your most vulnerable customers. Ultimately this will assist you in identifying customers who may miss payments before they do – saving revenue and safeguarding the customer at the same time.

Random sampling of calls often doesn’t cut it – and inevitably has data biases that exclude the minority of customers that may struggle with financial difficulty. We recently wrote an article on the benefits of speech analytics where we speak about vulnerable customers here.

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