Managing Difficult Customers/members of the Public.

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2023 National Energy Service Group Conference
31 January 2023

This energy conference notes that, In the past year we have experienced a cost of living crisis which has placed many energy customers in increasingly difficult circumstances. Fuel poverty is on the rise and many households are having to choose between eating or heating. It is making people more stressed and anxious and at times angry.

Our energy members are working in energy companies in roles that require them to engage on a very regular basis with these customer and to behave professionally at all times. They are taking calls or interacting with customers/members of the public which can lead to shouting down the phone, they can threaten to commit suicide, they can be deeply distressed and also vulnerable to harm.

While some limited training is often provided to UNISON members working with difficult customers it does not often reflect the increasing volume or nature of these challenging engagements nor the complex and distressing circumstances that are present. UNISON members dealing with difficult customers are often in the firing line for matters which they have no control over.

The effect of trying to manage difficult or distressed customers is inevitably having its own negative impact on our members. This is increasing the levels of stress and anxiety faced by members but also increasing the levels of sickness and mental health issues they are vulnerable to. Further our members may well be facing cost of living issues themselves and struggling to pay energy bills.

This motion calls on the Energy Service Group to take the following actions to help support its members facing these difficulties:

1. Create a survey that can be used by energy branches to understand the scale of these problems and use the data to help support wider engagement on these concerns.

2. Engage with key employers to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by members and seek to ensure these concerns are the subject of full discussion and action plans drawn up to mitigate our concerns.

3. Seek to ensure that more specialist training is provided to deal with the complex nature of issues raised by customers especially when harm is threatened to themselves or others.

4. Seek to ensure that staff faced with distressing calls/face to face contact with customers are given adequate support in the workplace or at home.

5. Raise these issues more broadly with energy stakeholder such as Ofgem, the Government and the Labour Party, via the Labour Link, so they are aware of the wider pressures.