All too often, the best solution to a problem is right under our noses, and though it takes work, it’s a win-win for both the customer and the utility. It’s no different when it comes to increasing customer adoption in utility paperless billing and electronic payment services. The solution under our noses is … (drum roll, please) make it “useful” for the customer.

Yes. It really is that simple. Even better, that obvious solution (i.e., usefulness for customers) can eliminate practically every issue related to billing and payments. Unfortunately, too many utility eBill/ePay solutions get bogged down by internal obstacles such as budget constraints, existing technologies and investments, disconnected processes, inconsistent leadership, and the complexities of achieving PCI compliance. Consequently, deployment can vary widely. However, as daunting as these obstacles can be, they should never get in the way of your customers.

On a recent trip to Texas, I visited five different utilities. I discovered big differences in each of their paperless billing and electronic payment solutions. One utility required the customer to mail or fax in a paper form in order to register for paperless billing. Another offered online registration. A third had up to a 48-hour delay in real-time balance and payment information, while a fourth utility provided this same information in real-time. One utility imposed an $8.00 online payment fee, while the others charged more reasonable convenience fees or none at all.

With such widely diverse solutions, it isn’t surprising that the effectiveness of each varied as well including customer participation rates for electronic payments, ranging from 2% to 23%!

Though some were moving in the right direction, each utility is challenged to implement a solution that is consistent throughout and one which customers will want to use again and again. One glitch anywhere in the solution can thwart adoption. But how?

The good news is that most customers have very similar wants and needs that I refer to as the “7 Truths of Customer Usefulness.” These universal truths shape and define the habits of all customers (present company included) as they pertain to utility paperless billing and electronic payments. They are:

  1. Availability/Convenience: Customers want/need a system that is available when and how they want it. They also want the convenience of all payment channels (IVR, Web, Mobile, Text2Pay, and over the counter) and payment methods (cash, e-check, and credit cards).
  2. Ease-of-Use: Customers don’t want to spend time figuring out how to use your system. They want to easily navigate to their desired functions, without having to read through instructions or follow tutorials. The fewer steps it takes for them to complete their tasks, the better.
  3. Speed: Customers are used to expediency and are pressed for time. Make it easy and quick (less than two minutes) for first-time customers to make a payment. Do so and they will be far more likely to sign up for (and use) more advanced online services.
  4. Consistent, current information: More customers are relying on electronic, real-time balance and payment information. What’s more, they are conditioned to expect payments to post immediately. Anything less is unacceptable to customers and ultimately will damage their online experience, now and in the future. The takeaway – utilities must tackle and overcome sometimes complex integration hurdles to deliver accurate, consistent, and timely information.
  5. Security/Trustworthiness: Customers are more wary of potentially compromised critical data. Utilities must ensure that customers’ online experiences foster a level of trust and provide security before they will entrust you with their information.
  6. Communication: Customers often are reluctant to register for paperless billing because they fear that they will overlook or miss a bill. An eBill/ePay communication system that proactively keeps customers informed about their accounts via bill payment reminders by text, email, or phone call will reinforce value, assure them that they won’t miss a bill, and will dramatically reduce the number of delinquent accounts.
  7. Value: The solution will only be of value to customers if it helps them efficiently and securely transact business with their utility. Ancillary services and features will further heighten your solution’s value. However, convenience and service fees that are too high can negate this value.

The answer does take work. However, understanding your customer and ensuring that your solution is useful to that customer are half the battle. Design your solution from the customer’s perspective and the seven universal truths, so that online billing and payments will be easy. Best of all, customers will return and adoption rates will soar.