How To Improve Engagement With Customers In The One Place They Are Paying Attention – The Utility Bill
The utility bill may seem like a strange thing for customer engagement professionals to get excited about, but it is the one place you can be sure to grab the attention of the utility customer. The monthly bill can either be seen as a necessary evil that is unwelcome and frustrating for customers, or it can be an informative utility customer communication that also provides a relationship-building experience.
Utilities that fail to leverage the monthly utility bill to build customer engagement and provide relevant and useful information, are missing a valuable opportunity, as they can also benefit from the results.
Here are 5 ways in which the utility bill can be used to provide a great customer experience that drives engagement and loyalty - ultimately improving the relationship between utility and consumer:
1. The bill as an anchor for your utility customer communication
For many utility customers, the monthly bill is the only regular communication they receive. There may be other adhoc messaging, but the communication relationship is centered on the bill.
This is an ideal opportunity to set the bar for what the consumer can expect to receive and how the communications will look.
To position the bill as the anchor of your utility customer communication, it must be accurate, easy to understand, relevant to the individual/household, and provide useful information.
2. The bill as a catalyst for faster payments
Bills that are difficult to understand don’t get paid as quickly as those that are clear and consistent. Past due payments are stressful for both parties. If the consumer doesn’t trust the bill and must spend time ratifying what they owe, they may not pay on time.
The utility must also follow up on overdue payments, which is a costly and time-consuming process.
Providing a bill that shows the essential information upfront, such as the total usage, amount due and payment due date, reduces frustration on the consumer’s side, and is also likely to result in faster payment.
3. The bill as a means to share targeted information about energy efficiency
When customers are viewing a bill, their household expenditure is top of mind. This makes the bill an ideal place to provide targeted energy efficiency information to help the consumer manage their usage.
Including data such as highest and lowest usage periods will help residents understand time-of-use principles, how they can manage their own energy consumption and ways to save money through efficiencies in the home. For example, educate the customer on how many gallons of water they use when they shower and do laundry to reduce their water bill. Likewise, pointing out how much electricity is used by a lightbulb, the TV and the washing machine, can assist to manage the electricity bill.
This information is easily understood if the bill includes a visual representation of how much was generated, used, and sold for the month.
4. The bill as a way to promote emerging technologies and green initiatives
Consumers tend to open and read their utility bills, so, unless the bill is causing frustration or confusion, it can be used to promote emerging technologies (such as solar energy) that may benefit the customer.
For customers already using these resources, the monthly bill is a terrific opportunity to show how much energy they are saving as well as feeding back to the grid.
5. The bill as a driver of a positive public image
Whether the bill is the cornerstone of a utility customer communication strategy, or the only regular communication customers receive, it can still be either a positive or a negative experience for the customer.
When monthly bills are not accurate, readable, and friendly, the customer experience is a negative one, which can tarnish the utility’s public image.
By contrast, when the monthly bill is clear, easy to consume and provides all the information needed, it creates a positive experience. Utilities need to build this goodwill with customers, as it will help gain their understanding in difficult times, such as outages or rate increases.
The negative effects of bad utility bills
In the age of instant information via social media, the impact of sending a bad utility bill or wrong billing information can be very damaging to a utility’s reputation. The public and media are quick to point out a problem, and hardly ever give the same level of attention or exposure to how well the utility handles it. Even once the issue is resolved, evidence of the error remains available online forever, and seldom is information about the resolution appended.
Billing errors degrade the trust relationship with customers. If the utility can allow the wrong bill information to go out to customers, what other mistakes are being made?
Sending bad bills causes issues for customers and utilities alike and getting to the bottom of billing exceptions requires specialist skills. Not every utility has the expertise, tools, and time necessary to really minimize errors.
Read more about the Reputational Damage of Bad Utility Bills
Based on the above, it seems the monthly utility bill is a critical utility customer communication and worthy of both excitement and attention to detail.
It is the one connection point that reaches all customers, and it offers a valuable opportunity to reach out, share information and engage with customers. However, the bill can only become a valuable touchpoint if customers trust the information it contains.
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Vice President, Utilities Vertical Lead at Doxim
With over 15 years of experience in providing information technology and services to the utility sector, Erin's expertise extends across project and operations management, as well as sales and account management.
Erin was Director of Customer Solutions at Utilitec, (acquired by Doxim in 2019) having been with the company for 15 years. Prior to that, she worked as a Project Manager at MSX International.