As a utility provider, one of the most fundamental elements of your relationship with your customers is trust. Members must be sure utilities will be there for them, reliably providing the power, heating and water services they need to live in their homes. When times are at their toughest, which includes the present moment, you have an opportunity to deepen the relationship between member and organization.

How are utilities helping customers?

The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic take several forms. Sometimes, there is a direct connection between the illness striking a family and subsequent hardship. In other cases, job loss or a general inability to earn in a weakened economic climate may endanger members’ ability to pay their utility bills.

Providing support and compassion for your customers during this time is one way to show that your organization deserves ongoing trust and loyalty, and there are many examples of exactly this type of interaction coming in from around the country. Mississippi news station WCBI, for example, described efforts by utilities in the region to take care of their members during the crisis.

The Mississippi Public Service Commission and utilities are collaborating on a program to halt disconnection fees while the crisis continues. Jon Turner of 4-County Electric told WCBI that over $500,000 has been deferred in his area. Furthermore, 4-County uses a billing system that normalizes bills throughout the years, so members won’t find a surprisingly large bill at any point. These deferrals are not permanent amnesty from payment, however, so customers are encouraged to pay what they can during the crisis to minimize their liability later.

The Globe Gazette, a North Iowa newspaper, spotlighted similar efforts among water utilities in the area. The city of Garner is preventing shut-offs to more than 10 households who would otherwise have been disconnected.

“Right now our council feels that it is a human right to have access to water to ensure all residents are able to clean themselves during this pandemic,” Garner City Administrator told the Globe Gazette.

How can you keep member communication strong permanently?

Whether in the midst of a crisis or simply going about normal communications and collections, it pays to have direct and convenient ways for your customers to contact you. An advanced interactive voice response (IVR) system is one such innovation that will remain relevant for years to come. Modern systems enable callers to not just check the status of their accounts but also to pay their bills without interacting with a live operator, for greater convenience and efficiency.

IVR systems that identify members immediately based on the number they’re calling from – meaning they don’t have to produce a bill and type in an account number – are valuable customer service tools. While these types of clear and frictionless communications are especially important at tense times such as the pandemic and the period of economic instability around it, creating open lines of contact with your audience is always a good practice.

View DataVoice success stories to see how technology has helped utilities and their customers connect.

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