What Are The Practical Challenges For Utilities When It Comes To Bill Delivery And Payment In An Increasingly Online World?
There is a lot of talk about enabling digital bill delivery and payment in utilities to meet the evolving expectations of customers in the utility sector.
But, what are the practical challenges for utilities when it comes to bill delivery and payment in an increasingly online world?
Doxim’s content editors spent time with industry experts Sean Kennelly and Kate Lindstrom getting their insights into bill delivery and payment in the utility sector, and the practical challenges experienced by utilities when it comes to getting bills paid.
What are the main challenges around bill delivery and payment in utilities today?
I see two primary challenges for bill delivery and payment in utilities. First is minimizing client friction and getting clients on to automated payment methods. Some customers prefer to pay whenever they want, however they want, in an ad-hoc way. This can cause payment delays and require extra human effort in terms of managing the collections/repayment process.
The second challenge lies in back-end functions, such as settlement, reconciliation, and collections, which can require manual processes and a lofty number of resources if the utility does not have the right technology and partners available to support them.
I agree with Sean’s points. And would add that utilities are being compared to the best service providers in other vertical markets, not just to their industry peers. A customer that sends a package via UPS for delivery, can opt-in to receive notifications for every leg of the package delivery, up to final delivery. That same customer expects their utility to provide a similarly informed customer experience.
The challenge for utilities is to meet the expectations of a continually evolving digital customer base, and this extends to the billing delivery and payment process.
Given these challenges, where should a utility focus their investment?
Today’s utility customers are more informed and aware than ever, so, a utility must proactively provide their customers with relevant and timely information in the manner of their choosing. This means focusing their investment on customer self-serve tools, including in the bill delivery and payment process.
For example, a utility we work with is piloting Time of Use (TOU) rates. TOU refers to charging different rates based on the time of day that the services are used. The bills generated for TOU customers clearly identify the higher or lower rates and we are also working with the utility to enhance their customer portal with TOU information.
A customer should be able to look at their bill and see a cost projection based on their historical use of the services. In addition, the interactive portal would support ‘what if’ scenarios customized for the customer, with personalized cost-saving tips aimed at reducing their overall charges.
Furthermore, a customer might opt-in for notifications when they reach a threshold usage. These services engage the customer in a positive manner. Having several easy-to-use, convenient payment methods is part of this overall experience.
Utilities should focus their investments on understanding customers' objectives; and driving a customer communication and engagement strategy that meets these goals. Part of this is creating touchpoints that are valuable to the end customer. Proactive messaging enables the utility to communicate on subjects such as cost-savings, understanding usage, and highlighting spikes – all topics that customers want to know about.
This requires investment in technology that, for example, enables the utility to drive clients to an automated payment process, and manage/track the adoption.
What does “omnichannel bill delivery and payment” mean for utilities?
It is vital that all channels provided by the utility are fully integrated into the backend and made available to the customer. Providing an omnichannel experience means the customer can select which channel to engage on, and easily switch between channels while continuing to receive a consistent and seamless experience.
For example, if a customer makes an online payment, this activity might drive certain on-bill messages, such as “Thank you for making your payment online.”
Or, if a customer reports an outage online, they might rightfully expect that when they contact the call center, they are greeted with “We understand you reported an outage yesterday. Did you receive our notification this morning that a service team is on the way?”
The omnichannel customer experience must include the bill delivery and payments process, but this is only one part of the overall omnichannel customer experience that utilities are driving toward.
What payment strategies should a utility consider to speed up collections?
People tend to be busy and distracted at the same time, which makes providing simple, clear options for automatic payments necessary. We encourage our utility clients to promote the autopay option, as this is the best performing payment channel.
We also consult with clients on the design of the bill. Utilities sometimes unknowingly cause delayed payments through bad design. Visual emphasis must be on the most important information: what is owed and when payment it is due.
One example is a utility that bolded and highlighted the fonts around past due payment amounts. Because customers’ attention was drawn to this information, many did not pay the total amount due, but rather, only the past due amounts.
We consulted on a redesign effort which significantly reduced the percentage of their customers running past due on their bills.
Various strategies can be applied to speed up collections, but there are a few critical areas where a utility should focus.
The first and obvious one is prompting clients to enroll in an auto-pay process: which involves a plan covering the following steps:
- Define a communication strategy to specifically promote auto-pay adoption, possibly even offering incentives
- Ensure the enrollment/sign-up process is fast and easy.
- Ensure that the tools made available to the consumer are user-friendly and work well when accessed through their preferred device. Note: more than 50% of our consumers are now accessing these tools through a mobile device, so make that experience spectacular!
- Ensure you support the payment methods commonly adopted across your client base.
Secondly, make it really easy for customers that are not enrolled in the autopay process to pay via proactive methods such as PayByText. Use a frictionless process to communicate with customers via their preferred channel for notices like payment reminders.
It’s vital to offer customers a vast array of methods to pay, with the minimum number of steps to get there.
What’s your advice for a utility that wants to get paid faster?
As with any change management, improving bill delivery and payments in utilities requires a combination of engagements and messages over time that will resonate with a customer base and drive the customer activity in the desired direction.
Excellent customer experience options, self-help features, payment choices that are secure, reliable and easy to use will all contribute to faster payments for the utility.
Need to enhance your utility bill delivery and payment process?
Sean Kennelly, Vice President, Product Management, CEM
With close to 15 years of industry experience, Sean Kennelly brings a wealth of technical know-how to Doxim. During his career, he has led both Operation and Managed/Professional Services teams, and been involved in Project and Product Management; he has also held multiple sales leadership roles. For the last decade, Sean has been heavily involved in the support, implementation, design, and planning of Doxim's products and services. This experience, as well as his engagement with North-American regulated industries entities; informs his vision around customer experience, communications and payments.