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Customer vulnerability ‘not a fixed state’: five AI, data and digital innovations driven by the cost of living crisis

Utility Week Innovate explores some of the digital projects helping utility firms respond to the ‘dynamic’ nature of customer vulnerability.

With almost a quarter of Brits finding it difficult or very difficult to pay household bills in March according to the Office for National Statistics – a 17% increase since November – and 87% seeing an increase in their cost of living over the same period, the key to ensuring vulnerable customers don’t fall by the wayside is appreciating that vulnerability is not a “fixed state”, according to Mike Hull, principal consultant and water data specialist at AI firm Aiimi.

“It is something that customers move in and out of depending on their circumstances,” he tells Utility Week Innovate, adding that harnessing data effectively and innovating accordingly can help firms establish which customers are vulnerable at a given time and offer appropriate support. “Utilities organisations must seek to innovate customer service solutions to respond to the dynamic nature of vulnerability,” he says.

Amid a host of post-pandemic, economic and environmental factors increasing customer exposure to vulnerability, addressing this need collaboratively is all the more pressing.

“With prices going up faster than wages for the time being, many people are moving into vulnerable categories and suppliers will have far more debt as customers struggle to pay bills,” Paul Linnane, chief data officer at data transfer provider ElectraLink, adds.

“This means customer service has to innovate to increase efficiency and find new models to, firstly, support two-to-three-times more vulnerable customers through the cost of living crisis, and, secondly, to anticipate where problems arise for the customer before they happen and then keep costs low to resolve other problems at scale.”

Before pan-utility leaders gather to discuss customer-facing innovation at Utility Week Live on 17 and 18 May, Innovate takes a snapshot of how firms are already harnessing richer data sets, digital tools, and more intelligent analytics and AI to ensure all-encompassing customer support.