Steps to avoid when your customers struggle to pay their bills
This is the first of two blogs focused on the challenges people face when experiencing debt. We begin by considering what steps organisations should avoid when working with people struggling to pay their bills
The cost of living crisis is pushing more people to the financial limit. It is affecting millions, from traditionally vulnerable low income households to families who were previously considered to be ‘comfortable’.
Key triggers include: huge hikes in energy prices, food inflation and rising rent and mortgage payments. According to the Office for National Statistics, 94% of UK adults have seen an increase in their cost of living. Meanwhile, household income is set to drop by 4.3% this financial year, the biggest fall since records began in 1956.
At Qa Research, we see the impacts of these challenges up close. We specialise in engaging people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and who sit on the economic fringes of society, a place where every penny counts.
Working with sectors including water, energy, transport, the NHS and universities, our in-depth research has led to insights into some effective ways to help struggling customers – and, critically, understanding things that can make people’s circumstances worse.
Money worries have acute and lasting effects on people’s mental health. Some of the people we’ve interviewed told us of simply desperate measures they’ve been forced into to mitigate dire financial situations: not heating their home, skipping meals, washing in a bucket – even eating raw potatoes.
The loss of control, the damage to personal pride and self esteem, and a sense of shame fuels high levels of stress, anxiety and can worsen mental health. When you contact a customer in this situation, they are not in a good place.
The debt spiral
If money is impossibly tight, things can quickly spiral out of someone’s control. They might miss a direct debit because they run out of money after rent and food. Then one missed payment easily becomes two.
The strain is enormous. And can cause some people to start to ignore or avoid tackling their growing debts.
What customers don’t need
You lie awake with worry. You don’t know where to turn. What would make things worse?
- A threatening letter
- A call from a company representative who is unable to deviate from a set script, offering little help and no hope
- To be made to feel bad for getting into difficulty and asking for help.
The impact of any one of these responses is to exacerbate the customer’s already negative feelings. Increased guilt and fear lead people to shut down and opt out. Soon, they won’t respond to emails or answer phone calls.
Once a customer in need has stopped communicating, organisations are sometimes left to consider more extreme measures. Cutting them off, taking them to court, sending in the bailiffs.
But this only serves to widen the trust gap, to the point where it can’t be bridged.
The more heavy handed a company becomes, the more its reputation can suffer. In our socially connected times, it doesn’t take long for a brand to go from positive reviews to being positively toxic.
Happily, all this can be avoided. There is a better way. In part two of our blog, we will outline steps you can consider when seeking to help a customer who is struggling to pay their bills
If you would like to know more our research with those experiencing debt and financial difficulty, contact email@example.com