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atriga energy supply company expert Michael Fait: About the communicating with customers in crisis situations

Gas levy, energy price cap, electricity price brake, relief packages: Hardly a day goes by without new terms, plans and demands from politics, business and society appearing in the headlines. The Fachtagung Forderungsmanagement 2022 of the German Association of the Energy and Water Industries (bdew) was also dominated by current developments. One of the most important questions on the agenda: How do energy suppliers communicate with customers who can no longer pay their bills? Because all the experts agree here: the volume of receivables will increase significantly in the short to medium term, and with it the number of dunning and collection cases – ultimately the default rate.

Michael Fait, Senior Key Account Manager at atriga, is considered an expert in the industry and has been working on new strategies for the receivables management of energy suppliers for many years. We talked to him about the current challenges, but also about possible solutions.

 

Mr Fait, what was the mood like at this year’s bdew Fachtagung Forderungsmanagement?

There was hardly a lecture or discussion in which the current developments on the energy market did not play a role. The uncertainty was clearly noticeable and overshadowed other topics at the conference, such as the amendment of the Basic Supply Ordinance.

In my discussions it became clear that all energy suppliers and municipal utilities expect a massive increase in bad debts due to the exploding energy costs and are asking themselves how they should deal with defaulting customers in this completely new crisis situation.

atriga Senior Key Account Manager Michael Fait: “Energy suppliers are acutely faced with the question of how they should deal with the increasing bad debts and defaulting customers. atriga, as a pioneer in digital receivables management, has the right solutions for this.”

atriga-Michael Fait

How should energy suppliers deal with the current challenges?

The enquiries in the service centres of the energy suppliers are increasing rapidly, and consumers are unsettled. Utility companies must now develop a sustainable strategy for dealing with defaulting customers, whether in commercial dunning procedures or in debt collection.

The following aspects need to be considered in particular: At what times, in what language and on what communication channel do I interact with my customers? Which self-service offers outside of my service hours do I want to offer?

 

What does that mean in concrete terms?

The best communication strategy is of no use if the underlying processes are not digitally and automatically integrated into my value chain, because this is where the key to maximum efficiency lies. The atriga Customer Communication Journey enables evaluable, systemically controlled and highly personalised communication with customers.

Sounds complicated, but it’s not: the atriga systems recognise at what time and on which device a customer has opened and read an email, for example – and which language they prefer. In this way, atriga responds to their individual behaviour with customer-centric communication.

 

But that sounds more like customer service than claims management and does not at all resemble the familiar dunning scenes.

Exactly right. You see, in addition to the departments that are already overburdened by current regulatory measures, there is now a real onslaught on the customer service of the energy suppliers. This includes enquiries about meter readings and the resulting annual bills, complaints about budget payments and, of course, queries about the current bill.

For this, utilities must also be optimally positioned in customer care. And the dunning process has a maximum impact on the company’s reputation. With atriga, energy providers get a partner on board who has been familiar with these issues for years and who can be trusted blindly.

 

Right now, energy suppliers have neither the time nor the inclination to rebuild their structures and processes. What now?

A good question! Our utility customers can draw on atriga’s immense experience and, with little effort and in a very timely manner, start a targeted dunning and collection system and adapt it to the existing and upcoming challenges.

On the other hand, experienced atriga experts are available at any time to design and implement the optimal solution together with energy suppliers. Our IT specialists take care of the smooth and individual onboarding.

 

You mentioned the atriga Customer Communication Journey earlier. What is behind it?

To explain this in detail would go beyond the scope of this article. I would like to use the comprehensive atriga Self Service offer as an example. Here, energy utility customers can arrange instalment payments on their own or use all available payment methods throughout the entire process.

It works like this: Within the scope of personalised communication, certain payment methods are highlighted and offered via the appropriate communication channel through which the customer can actually be reached. The atriga InfoCenter™ is part of the atriga Customer Communication Journey already mentioned.

 

But right now, don’t people want to talk to other people about their worries and fears about rising energy costs and their unpaid bills?

Absolutely, communication is the key! This is where atriga’s own contact centre comes into play, another important component of the atriga Customer Communication Journey. Here, competent, personal atriga customer advisors support and advise the customer during the payment process – always in consultation with and in the interest of the customer. Because one thing is clear: energy suppliers need to be there for their customers right now – and that includes customer-friendly service times.

 

Do energy suppliers know enough about their customers to be able to make the right decisions?

The topic of Know Your Customer – KYC for short – is perhaps more important than ever for energy utilities, especially for colleagues in risk management and sales, but of course also in receivables management. Look: In the worst case only name and address are available about the customers who are now in the basic supply or are there.

All the information that the energy supplier can get is helpful. Here, too, atriga can provide support. This also applies to the entire workflow from the application review process to customer segmentation to the right tariff.

Mr Fait, thank you very much for the interview!

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