The role of utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic

The global pandemic generated by the outbreak of COVID-19 has revealed how our day-to-day routines can be drastically disrupted. As essential players in our daily lives, service providers have a strong responsibility to overcome some of the social concerns caused by the virus.

The role of utilities during the COVID-19 pandemic | OPEN All across the globe, we are constantly being informed about the spread of COVID-19 and how people need to change their daily routines to help handle the situation. Almost every aspect of our lives is being affected in some way. Government officials, business leaders, and organizations are taking coordinated measures to help our society stay safe. Service providers are crucial during these difficult times as these organizations are the backbone of our modern lifestyle: the energy for industries, offices and homes, the water and waste management that sustain public health, and the telecommunications that allow us to stay in touch and work remotely are provided by them. Today, they can make a considerable impact to relieve the agitation caused by this crisis through simple yet meaningful initiatives.

What should utilities do for their customers during the pandemic?

1. Check on your customers.

Quarantines, voluntarily lockdown, and social distancing are among the most common measures introduced by official entities to stop the spread of the virus. These actions can produce a lot of anxiety, especially given the uncertainty of how long it will take to control the pandemic. To add to this, customers may be concerned about the supply of their utility services during these times of isolation. It is essential that utilities check in with their customers by reassuring them that no shortage or interruptions will occur during these months. Simple actions, such as sending an email or an SMS with relevant company information will reaffirm social commitment. Likewise, informing customers about the communication channels and being accessible 24/7 is crucial to assure customers that their service provider is supporting them during this global crisis.

2. Become a social advocate.

Utilities have an inherent social responsibility that is most evident in distressing situations such as this one. As key players in everyday human activities, utility companies must transcend from merely supplying basic services to providing support, trust, and stability to its users. As indicated by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), in these stressful times, it is important that customers perceive service providers as organizations that actively support the local community(1). Through community-oriented initiatives such as temporarily reconnecting the supply, particularly for low-income customers and other vulnerable groups, significantly improve customer satisfaction and uphold a socially responsible image.

3. Grant grace periods, rebates, and similar payment relief actions.

During this crisis, maintaining revenue streams can be difficult as the economy slows down inevitably. This affects business and customers alike, making it hard for them to keep up with bills and liabilities. Governments at a local and national level are encouraging companies to define flexible payment schedules and similar strategies to support customers and allow them to recover. By implementing actions such as freezing payments, removing late fees and granting grace periods, utilities relieve a burden from their customers, allowing them to settle overdue payments once a more positive outlook is set. Consequently, this creates a challenge in making billing and payment adjustments to keep accountancy organized and to bulletproof the revenue management process for service providers. By implementing these social initiatives, utilities can obtain great rewards in terms of perceived brand image, increased customer loyalty and advocacy, and overall customer experience. More likely than not, customers will remember what their service providers did for them when they needed them most. To support these activities, utilities require holistic solutions that can keep track of all the factors and special conditions granted to customers. These elements can include a wide set of segmentation variables such as family income and economic activity. This traceability will allow service providers to perform adjustments on financial statements and comply with accounting and fiscal standards during and after the crisis. Likewise, this will allow utilities to normalize revenue, serving as the evidence required by stakeholders and regulators regarding the payment relief actions carried out, helping companies recover monetary resources via government subsidies and reimbursements. Utilities can be of great help while the world battles COVID-19. However, these companies must assess whether their enterprise systems are equipped with the capabilities required to adjust customer-facing processes during a contingency. Once the current crisis is over, they may find it necessary to modernize their technology with state-of-the-art holistic CIS solutions that provide the flexibility necessary to overcome the challenges posed by present and future critical situations.
(1) The American Customer Satisfaction Index. (2019). ACSI Energy Utilities Report 2018-2019. https://www.theacsi.org/news-and-resources/customer-satisfaction-reports/reports-2019/acsi-energy-utilities-report-2018-2019

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