Lasting Impacts of COVID-19 on Utility Customer Care

Part 2: Serving with Empathy

Stacey Bailey, Vice President –

Chartwell’s Scott Johnson recently sat down (via webinar) with customer experience leaders Stacy Kregg of New Jersey Natural Gas, John Bord of Tucson Electric Power,  and Tim Melton of LG&E and KU to discuss the impacts of the pandemic and how their organizations were proactively managing these challenges. Members of Chartwell’s Insight Center can access the webinar recording here.

The panel discussed several themes that were top of mind as they manage their organizations through this time:

  • The exponential rise in customer expectations and reliance on self-serve digital channels
  • The increased need for care employees to demonstrate empathy
  • Utility and employee expectations around remote and flexible work arrangements

A large portion of the discussion centered on utility customers’ need for empathy and understanding due to the ongoing pandemic. Of course, empathy is always a key requirement in a customer care function, but the pandemic has caused millions of people to seek assistance for the first time, a situation that is both unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Some areas that are still in moratorium for disconnections may stay in moratorium through the winter, meaning many customers will have considerable arrears accrued. Talking though options with struggling customers will create a lot of anxiety, and care reps will need to have reliable emotional support as they manage this situation.

Several phrases stood out during the panel discussion that underscore the goal in this need for empathy:

  • “Listening to understand”
  • “Providing a mutual feeling of respect”
  • “Working toward solutions and providing options”

Our panelists highlighted the following actions their organizations were using to promote serving with empathy:

  • Train for empathy. Coach on listening skills and provide scripting that conveys understanding and support.
  • Automate tasks to create more capacity: RPA is a great way to automate many simple, repetitive tasks for care reps so they can spend more time on conversations with those customers who need it.
  • Make understanding and applying for assistance as easy as possible. CorpComm and Marketing departments at utilities across the country have been key players in effective communications.

As the Delta variant prolongs the fight against COVID, utilities will continue to play a key role in one of the most challenging times in history.

Look for part 3 of this blog, which discusses employee needs and expectations in a changing work environment, in the next few weeks.