Austell Natural Gas System: Raising Satisfaction While Going Remote
Since 1954, Austell Natural Gas System has provided natural gas service to customers throughout the cities of Austell, Douglasville and Powder Springs, as well as portions of Cobb and Douglas counties. Currently, more than 58,000 customers rely on Austell Natural Gas System for their heating and gas needs.
Driven by a desire to advance its payment offerings and provide more convenient, digital payment options to its customers, Austell Natural Gas System selected Paymentus as its payment partner in 2019. The seamless implementation of the comprehensive, secure and fully PCI-compliant online payment portal enabled customers to self-serve, view their bills, pay on-the-go with a mobile-first site and access new time-saving features like Scheduled Payments and Saved Payment Methods for the first time.
This digitization would prove crucial in 2020, as Covid began to disrupt the country. In response to the pandemic and its desire to optimize resources, Austell made the decision to close its in-person branch and go fully remote. This meant that all payments needed to be made either online or over the phone.
Overcoming the challenges within this transition relied primarily on two things: 1) having a payment platform that is built for a large volume of digital payments, 2) maintaining tight contact with customers in regard to company updates, account information and new payment offerings.
While Austell Gas relied on the Paymentus platform to handle its payments, the communication and marketing requirements were outside the scope of its internal resources. To meet its needs and ensure the success of this new remote strategy, Austell Gas contacted CAST to help fulfill its many marketing initiatives.
This initiative was led by CAST Project Lead Parker Schweer. Based on his years of developing marketing materials for Paymentus clients, he understood not only Austell Gas’ challenges, but also the need for marketing support as a whole. “As much as we’d like, the reality of bill pay adoption is that customers are not organically discussing the latest enhancements to their payment experience between friends and family,” said Schweer. “We cannot rely on, or expect, word-of-mouth to do the work for us. The key to realizing significant increases in digital payment system use is via proactive and comprehensive marketing programs."
Creating a Seamless Transition
The success of Austell Natural Gas System’s remote strategy was built long before the decision was made. As part of the move to the Paymentus platform, Austell Gas needed to revamp its website to accommodate its new digital payment experience. To ensure adoption, the utility tapped CAST to create a comprehensive campaign that would promote the new online bill pay platform via high-traffic customer touchpoints.
"It was crucial to determine appropriate marketing channels and effective tactics, which we identified alongside the team at Austell,” explained Schweer. “Our marketing programs are a collaborative effort between CAST and the client, to ensure that the audience is understood in an effort to best relay benefits through the most effective mediums."
To this end, CAST created a host of materials, including English and Spanish language posters that highlighted the benefits of paying bills through the new online payment system. CAST also created a set of in-person and over-the-phone scripts that customer service representatives could use to promote the online platform. CAST further surrounded Austell Gas’ customers with a series of social posts that announced the launch of the new payment system, as well as bill inserts to those customers still receiving paper bills.
Another key component of Austell’s digital success was the development of its mobile app. CAST created a special bill insert featuring a QR code that drove customers to the app store, where they could instantly download the Austell Gas mobile bill pay app. Within this same insert was a special promotion for the new in-person bill pay kiosk.
For Austell Gas customers, this both provided an easy way to gain access to mobile bill pay and showcased the flexibility they now had in how they could pay their bills. The promotional assets resulted in significant customer adoption of the most cost-efficient payment options, including a 2x increase in mobile payments.
Lastly, the Paymentus platform allowed Austell Gas to offer customers digital wallet payments, including PayPal, Venmo, PayPal Credit, Amazon Pay, Google Pay and Apple Pay. Marketing materials were developed to introduce customers to these new payment methods, which saw wide adoption throughout the first year.
The success of these initial projects gave Austell Gas the confidence to know that they could rely on CAST for almost any marketing need. As Bryan Shick, Finance Director of Austell Natural Gas System shared, “It seems like everything we’ve rolled out has always been accompanied by a marketing campaign, which has been really helpful.”
Schweer was quick to point out that Austell Gas’ commitment to marketing remains key in meeting its adoption goals. "Austell’s success can be attributed to our teams’ shared acknowledgement that bill pay marketing and promotion is not a one-time initiative, but rather an ongoing and constantly evolving program that requires nurturing and transparent communication with the customer-base.”
While known primarily for its payment capabilities, Paymentus also offers best-in-class communication features that allow clients to easily and effectively communicate with their customers. For utility providers such as Austell, this is a crucial tool in helping customers avoid late payments and service cutoffs.
With the help of CAST, Austell Gas leveraged the Paymentus Enterprise Communications Manager to send timely notifications, including disconnection warnings. The CAST team developed the messaging and built out the notifications, which were sent to customers three days before a disconnection. The campaign manager notifications provided a link to make a payment and the option to set up recurring payments.
Through “Past Due” notifications alone, Austell Gas experienced an average customer response rate of 85%, significantly reducing their number of collection accounts and customers who would have otherwise been disconnected. This has saved their Operations Center considerable time and money.
Answering the Call
A key element of Austell’s success is its data-driven approach to the tactics it deploys. Josh Bowling, Project Manager for Austell Natural Gas System, noted that given his team’s limited resources, analytics play a key role in deciding which channels may prove most useful or which customers may need more attention.
As winter approached, Bowling sought to take advantage of the predictable uptick in call center volumes relating to heating questions. Due to this volume increase, on-hold times naturally rose, presenting a unique opportunity for Austell. Bowling, already working on a bill insert with CAST, tapped the team to create on-hold messaging that would address customers’ most frequently asked questions.
CAST quickly developed a series of hold prompts intended to inform customers, promote digital channels and ultimately enable customers to better self-serve. Hold prompts included messaging on the benefits of online bill pay, new digital wallet offerings, the Austell Gas mobile app and even how to use Alexa link their utility bill.
Performance Beyond Payments
After two and a half years and nearly a dozen projects completed (with several more currently in planning), CAST continues to deliver for Austell and reinforce the decision to go fully remote.
“I’ve worked with a lot of payment processors and vendors over the years,” said Shick. “Finding a company that can provide a high level of support is a real key for me. The responsiveness we receive from Paymentus and CAST is one of the things I’ve always paid attention to and appreciated.”
For Bowling, working with CAST is a no-brainer. “It’s so easy to get a hold of the team, ask questions and receive answers. We’ve built a great relationship over our many projects. Working with CAST is just simple. They really get the needs of our business.”
About Austell Natural Gas System
Austell Natural Gas System, a.k.a. Austell Gas System, established in 1954, is a natural gas distribution utility. A component of the City of Austell, Georgia, Austell Gas System is governed and administered by the Austell Gas Board. It serves residential, commercial and industrial customers in the cities of Austell, Douglasville and Powder Springs and in portions of Cobb and Douglas Counties. It provides natural gas service to more than 58,000 customers throughout its service area. For more information, visit Austellgas.com.