Connecting With Customers During Economic Downturns
June 23, 2022
It’s hard to escape the doom and gloom economic forecasts dominating the news cycle these days. Inflation is sky-high, interest rates are climbing, and the stock market is volatile. This is unwelcome news for consumers and businesses, but it isn’t entirely unexpected given what’s happening today. In times like these, providing your customers with flexible payment solutions and proactive communication helps alleviate some financial stress and improves customer experience. In this blog, we give a brief overview of the current state of the economy and explain the negative impact it is bound to have on many of your customers – and what you can do to help.
Current Status of the Economy
The COVID-19 pandemic rocked economies around the world, and before they had a chance to recover, Russia invaded Ukraine. The war has magnified the slowdown in the global economy, which according to the World Bank’s latest Global Economic Prospects report, is entering what could become a protracted period of weak growth and elevated inflation.1 The report also predicts world growth to slow to 2.9% this year from 5.7% in 2021. This most recent forecast is not only darker than the one produced six months ago (before Russia invaded Ukraine), but it was also below the 3.6% outlook in April issued by the International Monetary Fund.
Despite the less than rosy economic outlook, Americans are putting less away for a rainy day since the global financial crisis. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the personal savings rate as a share of disposable income dropped to 4.4% in April, the lowest since September 2008. So far, consumers don’t appear to be scared off by the highest inflation in about 40 years and are eager to spend after pandemic-era restrictions. Americans are also putting more on their credit cards, with borrowing increasing the most on record in March 2022 as everyday essentials became more expensive.2 The spending spree may not continue for much longer as gas prices are at record highs and grocery bills are climbing, taking a bigger chunk out of the household budget.3 This financial insecurity is bound to extend to necessary household expenses like utility bills, which is where you come in.
Expect More of Your Customers To Need Help
This economic downturn will impact millions of consumers and it’s difficult to predict how long it will take for the economy to recover. Still, it’s safe to say that many customers are expected to have trouble paying their utility bills and will likely continue to. In August 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey found that more than 80 million Americans had difficulty paying their bills during the COVID-19 recession. Also in 2021, 35.5% of utilities said 30-49% of customers would have issues paying their utility bills once the moratoriums were lifted.4 Though we don’t have more recent data that shows how many customers are having difficulty paying their bills in this current environment, the expectation is that it would be a significant percentage given the recent economic indicators.
Make Payment Assistance Features Available
By offering innovative payment assistance features to your customers, you alleviate some of the financial burdens they’re facing. These tools include ways for customers to request payment assistance from friends and family and donation features that allow users to help support charities and other outreach initiatives. KUBRA offers several payment assistance options, including:
- KUBRA Boost™ - The “Boost” feature allows biller customers to request payment assistance from friends and family members. Customers can share a system-generated link with friends and family so they can make partial bill payments for any amount on their behalf or pay the entire amount. This link conveniently takes them directly to the KUBRA EZ-PAY® account, where they can make payments. The “Boost” feature also allows roommates to share bill payments easily.
- Donation Feature - This solution allows customers to contribute financially to payment assistance programs their billers offer to help those in need. From the KUBRA EZ-PAY platform, customers can directly contribute to approved charities and outreach initiatives selected by the biller.
Think of Pre-Pay as a Sustainable Solution
Pre-pay energy solutions allow utility customers to add money to their utility account before energy is used. As the power is consumed, the pre-paid balance declines. Pre-pay options, like KUBRA PRE-PAY™, are popular with a wide variety of utility customers because they give them more control over their energy usage and payment schedule. With pre-pay, customers receive custom notifications and alerts so they can stay on top of how much energy they’re using and what their balance is. Instead of paying a monthly lump sum, customers can top up their pre-paid balance when they have the resources to do so.
Provide Pragmatic Help to Customers in Financial Distress
Providing flexible solutions to those dealing with financial challenges is now both a responsibility and a huge trust driver for companies.5 Typically, utilities penalized customers who couldn’t meet their payment obligations either by shutting off power/disconnecting service or enforcing late-payment fees. Instead, utilities might want to take a more empathetic approach, refraining from shutting power off and even consider restoring service that was turned off before the economic crisis. And, regardless of whether a customer is in good standing, utilities should stay reachable and treat all customers with care during their interactions.
Proactive Communication Is Key
Assistance programs alone aren’t enough to support customers because often, they don’t know they exist or how they work, so they don’t take advantage of them. That’s why utilities must proactively communicate with customers to raise awareness of these assistance programs. This includes information on the importance of paying their bills, ways to do so, what kind of assistance and/or programs are available, and how they work. It’s a good idea to recommend that customers in need use these programs well before payments are due to avoid disconnections. When developing your communication plan, include all available channels like email, text, and outbound phone calls so you can reach the greatest number of customers possible.
Times are tough and may get tougher yet. Show your customers you care by providing flexible payment solutions to help ease their financial stress.
- Stagflation Risk Rises Amid Sharp Slowdown in Growth, The World Bank, 2022.
- Americans’ Savings Rate Drops to Lowest Since 2008 as Inflation Bites, Bloomberg, 2022.
- Bracing for the Storm: Consumer Debt Is Up, Savings Are Down, Payments Journal, 2022.
- KUBRA 2021 Customer Experience Report.
- Connecting with customers in times of crisis, McKinsey and Company, 2020.