eMatrix launches its new training program to assist Energy retailers to balance their commercial outcomes with the social needs of the customer

The Essential Service Commissions new Payment Difficulty Framework is challenging Energy Retailers in Victoria to rethink and improve how they assist customers facing financial difficulty. It is redefining what hardship means and as a similar version gets rolled out to the Water sector over the next few years, other industry sectors too will no doubt be following closely to see how commercial outcomes can be balanced successfully with the social needs of the customer under this new framework.

What it is

• No longer will customers have to ‘qualify’ to enter a hardship program, instead all customers will be entitled to minimum payment assistance measures.
• Standard assistance will be made available to all customers that are not yet in arrears; providing all customers with a right to flexible payment options at an early stage to avoid getting into arrears and reduce risk of getting disconnected.
• Tailored assistance is to be provided to all customers over $55 in arrears with minimum standards of assistance to be adhered to.
• Customers considered in severe payment difficulty – who can’t afford to pay for ongoing usage – will be entitled to additional assistance requiring a specialised team.
• Energy and Water retailers will be required to provide support and assistance to customers facing severe payment difficulty, including a 6 month on hold period, for customers who cannot meet their ongoing usage costs, whilst they are assisted in reducing energy consumption.
• The retailer can no longer choose when to offer assistance but must follow up all customers that have arrears over $55 within 21 business days of the payment being missed to offer tailored assistance, revise an existing payment plan or implement a new one where appropriate.

What it means

Collective buy in across an organisation is essential for a successful transition to the payment difficulty framework. Hardship is no longer just the business of the credit department or the hardship team. It is now everyone’s business. So, what are the top 5 Factors for getting it right in your organisation?

1. Early Intervention: Train all frontline staff for early intervention strategies – early intervention is key to stop debt escalating and to identify vulnerability at an early stage to get your customer the right support.
2. Debt is everyone’s business: Define your delegation matrix and determine what payment assistance plan is offered by which team.
3. Know your customers: Ask the right questions to match the right plan to the right customer.
4. Know the triggers: Identify vulnerability triggers such as family violence, mental health and suicide awareness.
5. Assess energy usage: Retailers should know how to approach energy use and discuss energy consumption reduction strategies under this new framework.

For best outcomes, it is critical that all of the above is supported by a meaningful quality framework and coaching program.
The eMatrix 5-step approach to managing payment difficulty successfully

Staff need to be empowered to have more effective, genuine and respectful collections conversations. There is no room for scripted calls within the payment difficulty framework, instead an expertly managed call flow process allows for a more fluid and intuitive approach that enables agents to apply active listening and tailored solutions.

1. Undertake a diagnostic review of current processes and practices across call centres, customer service, credit and hardship/specialised teams. Workshop with key stakeholders – link training and coaching to quality framework/create consistency across the organisations.
2. Collections training for effective, genuine and respectful conversations
3. Side- by -side coaching strategies to embed techniques
4. Upskill staff to help customers understand what they can afford as a sustainable payment plan – ask the right questions
5. Provide energy consumption reduction strategies – expert advice/training to develop
over the phone audits in a respectful way