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Kris Marlein, Vice President at Itineris, explains how innovation is key in the quest to improve customer service.

The cost-of-living crisis: how utilities can better support their customers and improve customer service

Today, utilities are faced with an increasing number of customers who struggle to pay their energy or water bill. Customers are experiencing the biggest increase in the cost of living for a generation, pressuring household budgets.

As winter approaches, another increase in the energy price cap means more substantial price rises.

In their quest to deliver the best customer experience, now more than ever, UK utilities must adopt a proactive, digital approach to managing customers in debt.

How can innovation help?     

Currently, customers tend to approach their utility when they first experience difficulty paying or following a non-payment. In both cases, utilities are reactive to the issue. Moreover, customer service advisers are overwhelmed by interactions with unhappy, stressed customers, which affects their motivation and mental wellbeing.

That is why utilities must conduct a proactive analysis of their customer base. Drawing on internal and external data, and historic and forecasting data, a utility can gain insight to assess financial impacts and to help the customer adjust consumption behaviour, thus reducing their invoice. By connecting data from smart meters with the customer information system (CIS), utilities can personalize customer insights and provide tailor-made advice. Digital integration and automation also enable consistent and reliable debt journeys with easier reporting.

But is this possible for utilities with a dated legacy CIS solution?

It depends.

In the UK, many of the sector’s CIS solutions are old and relatively inflexible. These do not facilitate a proactive approach to customer billing. If the utility hasn’t done so already, now is the time to initiate a replacement or upgrade of their CIS solution to a modern platform. This ensures the customer experience remains a central focus, enabling a proactive approach to managing customers experiencing financial hardship. Additionally, proactive communication—also enabled by a modern CIS solution—is among the most effective ways to reduce strain on your customer service advisers. This improved digital technology permits them to concentrate on high-value tasks, which helps decrease employee turnover by preventing burnout.

As the implementation of these modern platforms does not happen overnight, there is also a short-term, quick-win approach to consider: the use of algorithms that interact with the existing billing engine and the utility’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. These enable utilities to proactively analyse and improve residential debt management and support. This approach draws core data from the main billing system. Results can be quickly realized using new technologies such as AI. Expert data companies provide some of these ideas and services, and companies such as Itineris can also provide an evolutionary bridge to a more enduring digital landscape.

In short, new technologies are enabling utilities to proactively manage and mitigate the distress of customers struggling to pay their bills while equipping customer service advisers with superior tools to assist customers.

For more information about how Itineris can support you in this journey, please visit