In the Know: Serving customers who face financial difficulties

October 15, 2020 By    

In the Know is a monthly partnership between LP Gas and Propane Resources. Our focus this month is on best practices to serve customers who face financial difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic, addressed by marketing specialist Tony Botts.

Q: How do marketers best serve customers who face financial difficulties?

A: This year has presented more problems and obstacles than anyone could have anticipated.

Unfortunately, due to the impact COVID-19 has had on a global scale, our customer bases may feel that pain for quite some time.

Year after year, we wind up chasing down some of our customer accounts for payments or sending constant reminders about outstanding balances. This year, these activities may occur on a much grander scale.

From a health perspective, the virus has impacted older generations far more than those 49 years old and younger. However, financially, it seems the 49-and-under age groups have suffered the greatest job or income-related losses.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 years of age either lost their jobs and/or had to take pay cuts, or reported someone in their household experienced this. The second hardest-hit demographic was those between the ages of 30 and 49 (49 percent suffered job loss and/or pay cut). Individuals 50 to 64 years old saw 42 percent of households affected by economic distress.

It doesn’t take extensive math to see that winter collections could be difficult this heating season for many propane marketers across the country. So, what can we do?

For starters, marketers should review any changes or deadline extensions in their areas that pertain to Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program qualifications. If your state offers additional subsidies to assist residents with their heating bills, make sure you are familiar with these guidelines and qualifiers. Take time to go over these programs with your staff, especially those who handle customer billing and payments.

Get ahead of the wave, and start getting the word out to your customers about these programs. The hardest part, unfortunately, is we all know someone who might let their pride hold them back from taking advantage of these resources. Additionally, due to the sensitivity of the matter, it’s difficult to communicate openly with customers about it. My advice: Don’t let your customers suffer in silence simply because they may not have “known” about the programs or resources. Be a community resource for this information via email, social media, your website and other outlets. Get the message out.

Lastly, it is more important than ever to educate your customers about how they can protect themselves from propane price blowouts. Let’s be honest – the way 2020 has gone, who knows what heating season markets are going to look like. Make sure your customers know about your programs whether they’re pre-buy, budget or level-pay, price caps, or payment plans. The more knowledge and information your customers have, the better decisions they can make financially to ensure they stay warm this winter.

No one knows when we’ll be out of the woods when it comes to this virus. All we can do is prepare.

Tony Botts is a marketing specialist at Propane Resources. He can be reached at 913-262-8345.

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