Nobody wants to have to speak to their energy supplier. But one ‘challenger’ supplier will now offer customers an annual discount to avoid contacting them by phone, email or social media.
OVO Energy this month brought in the ‘self-serve’ reward, which means that you can enjoy a discount of up to £60 a year if you manage your account online and don’t contact the supplier unless you want to make a complaint or there’s an emergency.
The supplier previously offered the same-sized discount, though back then all customers had to do was receive all communications via email or through the supplier’s app and provide meter readings at least once every three months.
Customers will get this reward as a credit on their account, and it’s applied four times a year, so long as they have met the various requirements.
A better use of everyone’s time
On the face of it, this strikes me as quite a nice idea. I have no doubt that OVO call centre staff spend a decent portion of their day dealing with issues that don’t really need their intervention - customers who have very simple questions and queries that could have been resolved without a phone call if the customer had done a little research first.
I say this because I know I have been guilty of wasting the time of customer service staff in the past through my own laziness, and I’ve worked in enough customer-facing roles in the past to know that I’m certainly not alone.
Offering some sort of incentive to push people to find an answer themselves first is a smart way to cut down the number of unnecessary calls, so that the customer service team only ends up spending their time on cases where they are really needed.
I also like the fact that OVO has said from the outset that there will be exceptions to this setup, with customers who have been identified as vulnerable still being able to call as before, with no impact on their discount.
Of course, there will be some who say this is unfair to those who aren’t active online, like the elderly. And there’s some truth to that. But they wouldn’t have been able to make use of the previous online discount either, so nothing has really changed on that front.
A taste of what’s to come
Of course, this all relies on the quality of the help that you will receive should any issues pop up from OVO’s online help tools. If they are comprehensive and can be put to good use by normal people, then there’s no reason that this approach can’t work.
It’s worth noting that the technology used in customer service has improved substantially in recent years, to the point that some firms now employ artificial intelligence in the form of ‘chatbots’ as a first port of call for customers.
These chatbots ask a few questions about your experiences and can tackle some of the more basic queries that customers will have. They also learn from their previous interactions; essentially they get quicker and more efficient with time.
Realistically speaking, this technology is only going to become more prevalent in the years to come, so we are going to have to get used to it.
And as a customer, honestly I’d much rather run a quick query past a helper - be they human or robot - online than work my way through the call centre process only to arrive at the same result.
It can’t be fudged
The problem comes if the online help tools aren’t up to scratch. If OVO wants to incentivise customers to find their own answers online, then the firm needs to make sure they are actually able to do that.
I see no problem with pushing the use of technology if you invest in it properly and test it to ensure that it delivers the same, or even an improved level of service.
Fobbing people off to a half-rate online help isn’t going to cut it.