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Personalizing the Utility Payment Experience

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A swipe, a few taps and your morning brew is waiting for you at your favorite coffee shop – minus the line. The mobile app knows what you order every day, offers loyalty points and personalized deals. The digital experience makes it more than just a coffee shop – it’s your coffee shop. An ecosystem has been created to mold the experience to fit your needs and preferences while building loyalty.

The “wow factor” of customer-centric experiences is becoming less of a differentiator and more of an expectation. A Gartner study found that 89 percent of executives believe that, in the coming years, they will be competing based on the customer experience — a number that was only 36 percent a few years prior. Furthermore, research shows that investments in customer performance pay off in terms of company performance compared to customer experience laggards. Opportunities abound for the utility industry to retrofit experiences to earn customer loyalty as consumers increasingly expect what they want when they want it, and with minimal friction.

The fact is, most people don’t look forward to paying bills, which makes an enhanced experience that mirrors other familiar digital transactions even more important. New technology solutions enable utility providers to offer experiences in this critical area of life that resemble the many other activities people engage in every day by delivering the right message in the right channel to the right customer through:

  • Preparation – Creating a consistently branded, yet personalized user experience across all channels while configuring options to simplify implementation, maintenance, messages and ongoing support.
  • Presentment – Delivering the bill to where your customer prefers to view it, whether that is print through the mail or making a digital bill available on your website, at your customers’ financial institution or even to the mobile wallet on their smart phone.  Presentment also includes timely alerts, notifications and confirmations.
  • Payment – Offering a multichannel solution that accepts multiple payment capabilities and billing options.
  • Protection – Taking precautions seriously and utilizing the next generation of behavioral monitoring and analytics to mitigate fraud risks and improve security.

The key drivers of satisfaction and customer loyalty are meeting consumers’ need for a multichannel, immediate billing and payment experience, providing important and actionable information to improve financial health. According to the Consumer Billing Preference Survey from Fiserv, three elements, increase consumer satisfaction, lower attrition and ultimately, improve the bottom line:

  • Multichannel Experience – There’s no ‘one size fits all’ bill payment solution. In fact, research shows that the average household uses 3.6 different payment methods per month, 90 percent of households use more than one payment method per month and 19 percent of households change how they pay bills from month to month. According to the 2018 Expectations and Experiences Consumer Trends survey from Fiserv, there has been an uptick in consumers receiving utility statements electronically-only compared to the year prior. It’s important to give customers options that allow them to pay the way they want to pay at any given time.
  • Mobile options –An intuitive mobile-friendly platform is key to creating a customized experience in an age when smartphones proliferate. According to the Consumer Billing Preference Survey from Fiserv, top priorities of biller companies for their mobile sites should be ease of use (43 percent), convenience (41 percent) and time efficiency (40 percent). There has been a 75 percent year-over-year increase in the number of bills consumers paid using mobile phones as bill payers grow more and more comfortable with these platforms.
  • Flexibility -- Being able to pay and receive bills the way they want increases satisfaction for customers. For example, 34% of bill-paying consumers say they would be more satisfied with a biller who offered them several payment options (e.g. online, mobile, in-person). Data from the 2018 Expectations and Experiences Consumer Trends Survey shows that for 24 percent of consumers, the availability of electronic bills creates greater satisfaction with the biller.

Getting the Customer Experience Right

Once the hard work of determining how technology can best optimize experiences that integrate with the uniqueness of your business model and customers is complete, the final puzzle piece is identifying the right platform to achieve your goals. The following should be non-negotiable priorities as you consider a billing solution:

  • Adaptability to your organization: To create a personal customer experience, your technology should be customizable. You should be looking for a solution that can be custom-fitted to address your business model and your customers’ needs.
  • Future-ready functionality:  Technology is constantly evolving, and your billing solution should reflect that evolution. Your technology choice should be able to solve preparation, presentment, payment and protection needs for today and tomorrow.
  • Efficiency: While billing companies adapt to changing preferences, you technology should simplify and standardize workflows, while reporting and managing customer communications. This will allow them to focus on their core business, not billing and payments.

The opportunity — and necessity — to strengthen relationships with customers has never been greater, and utility companies should be thinking about the experiences they offer. Choosing the right technology solution partner can help create a frictionless experience that that makes your customers’ lives easier, while building trust and loyalty – just like picking up coffee on the way to work.

Jill Humbert's picture

Thank Jill for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on April 19, 2019

The mobile app really revolutionized how customers deal with utilities (not to mention, everyone else)-- do you see any other technological changes on the horizon that will prove to be a similar gamechanger? 

mark wilkinson's picture
mark wilkinson on April 22, 2019

Great article.  Our ecommerce practice lives by many of these principles, with special attention on the consumer migration to mobile.  With a computer in everyone's pocket, we cannot understate the importance for utility clients to focus on making sure that their website and payment gateways enable an efficient mobile experience.  

I appreciate the personal observation at the start of the article about using your app to bypass long waits at your favorite coffee shop.  Many of our clients prioritize apps over other mobile projects, but we find the data on apps to be challenging.  While the trends show a steady and overwhelming shift in ecommerce from desktop to mobile, only a relatively few apps command the lion's share of user attention.  Succesful mobile apps tend to favor frequent or habitual use, such as getting your morning coffee or getting regular updates like news or social posts.  Payment apps by banks, or services like Apple Pay, that drive daily or weekly use enjoy strong user growth, but dedicated apps for infrequent but steady payment often struggle with adoption.  We like your omnichannel approach, that is to know the channels where your customers most frequently connect, and be enabled there waiting for them.  For most utilities, making it easy to pay by mobile app, such as common bank platforms, Apple and Android payment system, etc, will support a greater number of customers than a dedicated branded app.  That's the trick to bridge from customer engagement to customer enablement.

Being ready to respond to customer biling questions and make a payment in a frictionless environment accomplishes one of the most important parts of the utility customer relationship, and keeps pace with how consumers have come to expect to interact digitally with their service providers.  It's a constant challenge to keep pace with technology, but as you demonstrate in your article's examples, we all live in the same connected world as our customers, so knowing where tech is moving can be as easy as observing our own digital behaviors.  Well done.

 

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