We spoke to Account Director, Mark Platts to find out more about Lowell’s successful entry into the utility sector and the plans for the future.
Firstly, please provide some background on why Lowell decided to enter the utility sector: Lowell has a vision to be the best in our field, for colleagues, for clients and for consumers. We had operated very successfully in a number of market sectors, including home shopping, communications and financial services for well over a decade. Having analysed the market landscape and opportunities for growth we felt that the requirements of the utilities sector, and the types of customer debt it experienced, were a very strong fit with Lowell’s core collections capabilities and our ability to improve data quality.
How did Lowell’s move into the sector evolve?
We originally entered the water sector several years ago. Water debt brings a very different model and approach than the energy sector, with much greater emphasis on regional crossover and customer knowledge. Our reach in the water industry has progressed to a second partner in 2019, and our original partner moved to a Forward Flow arrangement in 2016.
As a result of our entry into the water sector, we gained early learnings on how we could expand and deploy our model to meet the needs of the wider utilities sector. We took the decision to do this in earnest during 2017 and 2018.
The main component of our utility presence has subsequently resulted from our expansion into energy. We now have 3 of the Big 6 providers as partners, having acquired close to £1bn of debt and approaching 1m customers.
After our initial successes we decided to set up a dedicated utilities collections team in 2017 and it quickly grew to more than 150 colleagues, whose role it is to support customers and create sustainable solutions to long-standing utilities debt.
How has Lowell’s client relationships evolved over the last few years?
The additional value that we’ve created for our utilities partners has facilitated balance sheet improvements, which is a crucial challenge for the sector since the price cap imposition. Our success so far has led to broader conversations with clients around how Lowell’s capabilities can be utilised further: through earlier debt sale; alternate servicing arrangements; drawing on bespoke strategies; customer handling practices, and analytical capabilities. I’m very encouraged by how willing our utility clients have been to discuss different ways that Lowell can add additional value across the collections life-cycle.
How are Lowell customers benefiting?
Lowell has been able to accurately understand the challenges of the sector around ‘deemed supply’ and validating consumption liability. To do this we’ve evolved our offering away from a traditional collection environment to more of sector-centric mindset, where factors, such as product interaction, availability of supporting information such as meter readings, prepayment meter installation details and residency periods, are discussed upfront to understand the reasons why the debt has arisen and identify how Lowell can help customers to remedy the situation.
Merging best practice guidance from OFGEM, OFWAT and the FCA with Lowell’s experience, our collections team delivers outstanding customer service, with low rates of overall customer complaints; complaints represent just 0.1 per 1000 live accounts. The team often deals with vulnerable customers in need of specialist strategies and additional support, and is able to strike the right balance of empathy and commerciality.
How has the approach benefited Lowell colleagues?
Our decision to set up a dedicated team has been very successful as the agents have developed a deep understanding of how the utilities industry works. This has given them a stronger appreciation of the types of journeys customers have been on with their utility provider and enabled them to create more effective outcomes designed to meet an individual’s specific requirements.
The feedback from the agents has been very positive and we have been able to maintain high levels of employee engagement. They feel that their specialist knowledge is a real benefit, both for themselves and the customers.
Mark Platts is Lowell’s Utility Sector Account Director. You can contact Mark via email at firstname.lastname@example.org , or call him on 07464 677148.