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A Diverse Customer Base Needs a Variety of Payment Options

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Bill payment is something every utility customer encounters. As such a universal part of the customer experience, it’s an area utilities should try to get right. Of course, “right” for one company may be “wrong” for another, so it’s important to evaluate the specific needs of each customer base.

The Digital Divide

Electrical power is something everyone needs, so utility customers represent a cross-section of the population in terms of many factors, including age and, therefore, comfort with technology. As a result, some may be perfectly comfortable continuing to receive paper bills and sending in paper checks, but others may want electronic options. For example, tech-savvy customers appreciate the ability to pay bills via a mobile app or digital assistant; through an online portal; via ACH transactions; or even with cryptocurrency.

Implementing technology-based payment options can be tricky because – although there are those customers who actively want it – some customers may be reluctant to try or continue to use these methods. The more seamless the electronic payment process is the more likely customers who try it will be to continue using it. Utilities can retain even more electronic payment users by including value-added elements like allowing folks to choose their own billing date, or receive text reminders when payments are due. To help customers move in this direction, utilities can create marketing campaigns, distribute how-to videos, and encourage customer care representatives to mention available options.

The Banking Divide

Another split within utility customer bases is those who use banking services and those who don’t. A bank account offers technology options (e.g. automatic withdrawal) not available to those who are unbanked. Such customers must use cash or other means (such as money orders, cashier’s checks, or gift certificates) to pay bills. For this population, a walk-up facility is a must. Even better is a walk-up kiosk or drop-box with 24/7 access and the ability to take cash, to accommodate customers (often the same ones who are unbanked) not able to take time off from work during business hours to pay their bills.

A Greater Range of Options

The ideal scenario is a wide range of payment options to meet various customer needs. Colorado Springs Utilities offers a great example of this philosophy. The utility accepts payments via the following methods:

  • AutoPay. Customers sign up online and have funds withdrawn automatically.
  • Online Bill Pay. Customers sign up online and use the service to make payments 24/7.
  • KUBRA EZ-PAY (phone or online). Customers can choose their preferred payment method.
  • Kiosk. Located at the customer service center, the kiosk accepts cash, checks, and credit or debit cards.
  • Customer Service Center. Customers can pay using cash, checks, money orders, cashier’s checks, or gift certificates.
  • Payment Drop Boxes. The boxes are located around town, and customers can pay any time using checks, money orders, cashier’s checks, or gift certificates
  • U.S. Mail. Customers can send in their payment in the form of checks or money orders.

The key to providing convenient payment options for customers is understanding the technological and financial differences within the population a utility serves. When utilities get it right, they form a foundation of trust and a commitment to customer care; and establish a jumping-off point for further communications and interactions, such as offering new products and services or providing customers with ways to reduce their energy use and costs.

What payment forms does your utility currently allow? Which ones are you considering implementing in the near or distant future? Please share in the comments.

Karen Marcus's picture

Thank Karen for the Post!

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