Digital technology has the power to transform the lives of customers who need additional help – people who may be vulnerable as a result of their physical or mental health, because they are very young or very old, or because they are in financial hardship. Digital technology allows us to offer them accurate billing. It enables us to keep track of their use of essential services so we can reach out and help them if they get into trouble. It gives vulnerable customers more control over their use of energy and water so they know how much they are using and can when it is being wasted, and therefore it empowers them. It is also a great boon for carers, who can use assistive living tech to make sure that their loved ones are staying safe and warm – even if they live on the other side of the country.
But not everyone can benefit equally from the rise of the Internet of Everything. In 2016 the European Commission’s digital scoreboard found that 60 million Europeans had never used the internet, and 45% of people lacked advanced digital skills. In the UK nearly one in 10 households is digitally excluded, and there is a rising trend of older people who try using the internet and then stop. These are exactly the customers who are at risk of signing up for online account management and then not checking their electronic bills until they have a serious debt problem.
The reasons for digital exclusion vary, and many of them can be overcome. Vulnerable customers are not a reason to put a brake on the digital revolution – but we do need to take their needs into account. They are often the people who stand to gain the most from digital transformation; it would be a tragedy if they were left behind.
To find out how digitalisation can help customers who need special assistance, hear from Steve Crabb at the Digital Utility Transformation Forum that will take place in Amsterdam on June 12-13. Click here to receive a full agenda in one click.
Steve Crabb is Director, Consumer Vulnerability at Centrica plc, parent company of British Gas, Bord Gais and Connected Home. He leads a team responsible for driving continuous improvement in the service offered to customers in vulnerable circumstances. Last year British Gas were recognised as Dementia Friendly Large Business of the Year in the annual Alzheimer’s Society awards for the work the business has done to support customers with dementia.