Customer Service, Executive Insight, Smart Grid

Four ways to encourage electronic bill payments

Are your utility customers hanging on to inefficient ways of paying their bills, like making in-person counter payments or mailing paper checks? Old habits die hard, but there are ways of encouraging these customers to adopt digital bill payments.

According to the most recent Survey of Consumer Payment Choice published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, approximately 60 percent of consumer bills are paid online. While this number represents the majority, it also means that 4 in 10 bill payments still rely on manual methods.

In addition, an October 2018 article published by UCS, “How Affordable is Your Electricity?”, estimates that the average US household spends 2.3 percent of their annual income on electricity. This adds up to huge numbers, both for the number of bill payments and the value of those payments, that consumers dedicate to their electricity bills. Assuming that only 60 percent of these payments are digital, utilities must have the operational support (time, money, and personnel) required to process analog payments. There are also financial and accounting implications, as well as security concerns, associated with handling cash and personal checks.

How can your utility help customers make the shift to electronic payments? Here are four strategies that can help create a more positive bill payment experience for your customers while helping your organization save time and money.

1. Think beyond the browser.

Electronic bill payments aren’t limited to desktop computers and mobile browsers. Text messaging is so popular that Text Request reports 97 percent of smartphone users texted in the last week (Source: “How Many Texts Do People Send Every Day (2018)?”). That’s more than they’ve browsed the internet on their mobile devices. This high level of user engagement makes text messaging a natural place to communicate with customers about their bills and accept their bill payments. Pay by Text is a feature offered by some electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) solutions that allows customers to make on-demand payments directly via text messaging.

In addition, intelligent personal assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are changing just about every aspect of how customers manage their daily lives, including bill payments. EBPP solutions that offer voice payments via smart speakers let customers pay their bills using simple voice commands, making the process quicker and easier than ever before.

2. Make customers an offer they can’t refuse.

Some utility companies run promotions to help incentivize their customers toward electronic bill payments. Here are four types of promotions to consider:

●       Flat Discount – customers receive a fixed amount off their bill as an incentive for making the switch

●       Gift Card Raffle – customers who sign up for e-billing get their name entered into a raffle for a gift card with significant value, and a winner is chosen

●       Charitable Donation – customers have a donation made in their name to a charity chosen by the utility or a charity of the customer’s choice

●       Going Green Giveaway – customers receive an eco-friendly gift (reusable shopping bag, refillable water bottle, etc.) for their participation in this Earth-friendly endeavor

3. Use social media to your advantage.

Just because some customers aren’t embracing electronic payments doesn’t mean they aren’t using social media. In “41 Facebook Stats That Matter to Marketers in 2019”, Hootsuite reports that 68% of Americans use Facebook. Given the popularity of Facebook and other social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, these channels can be natural outlets to advertise the promotions outlined above and raise awareness about the advantages of e-billing.

In addition, Facebook Messenger can be another effective channel to communicate with customers about billing and accept their payments online. Hootsuite’s article reveals that Facebook Messenger is the most popular mobile app by number of downloads. Utility companies can leverage chatbot technology in EBPP solutions to automate customer support and accept bill payments directly in Facebook Messenger. Customers simply link their accounts and begin paying bills with a simple command like PAY directly in the app.

4. Encourage customers to put future payments on auto pilot.

When customers make the decision to go digital, make it easy for them to enroll in AutoPay. This will allow them to set up a funding source (ACH for direct bank account debits or card payments, if available) and agree to schedule their future payments automatically. Doing so eliminates the need for them to remember their monthly payments. It also gives your organization the ability to better predict future income.

About the author: Alison Arthur is product and content marketing manager at Alacriti. She creates product marketing and thought leadership content that informs on the latest developments in billing and payment technology.