While doing business for 99 years, the Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA) cannot be accused of being set in its ways. Early this year, for example, the central Florida electric company unveiled the QuickPay Program, which gives customers the ability to pay their bills online. The electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) service makes it possible for customers to view their bill on KUA`s Web site, then pay the amount they owe with the click of a mouse button.
KUA had already ventured into the online arena by providing customers with Internet access in addition to electricity services so online billing was a natural next step. With the large number of vacation homes in KUA`s service area, online billing is more than just a convenience, it`s an essential offering.
“I believe we have customers in every country in the world,” says Chris Beck, director of marketing at KUA. “Sometimes it`s difficult for customers who are living abroad to receive their bills in a timely fashion. And if they have a renter in the house, there`s a real possibility that the power will be shut off [if payment is delayed in the mail].”
The right partner
When considering online billing solutions, KUA decided to tap an application service provider (ASP) rather than developing a system in-house. “We didn`t want to reinvent the wheel,” explains Mike Geraghty, manager of customer financial services at KUA. “There are significant security, testing and programming issues involved in setting up a Web-based billing system, so we decided to partner with an ASP that focuses on this type of electronic commerce.”
“Paying an electricity bill is a lot different than buying toys or clothing online. So it`s important for utilities to select an EBPP partner that has experience in the industry,” Geraghty says. In the end, KUA teamed up with Derivion Corp., which has worked closely with SunTrust Bank to implement the utility`s online billing capability.
In considering EBPP options, KUA looked for a solution that was 1) easy to use, 2) backed by strong service, and 3) reasonably priced.
“When making this kind of decision, cost is a factor, but more important is, `Does it work?`” says Chris Gent, KUA`s communications manager. “If a customer has a difficult time using the system the first time, he or she probably won`t return to our Web site for a long time.”
According to Beck, the new QuickPay system powered by Derivion is so easy to use; “even a customer who receives his very first computer for Christmas can get online and pay a bill without any help.” To sign up, customers who visit KUA`s Web site simply click on an icon that takes them to a secure site transparently sponsored behind the scenes by Derivion. Once there, they can specify whether they want to pay their bills via credit card or bank draft. They enter a password and user ID of their choice, then their card number or account information.
After signing up online, customers receive an email notifying them when their bill is posted on the KUA Web site. They can then visit the Web site to view their bill, and pay it immediately by clicking on an icon. They can also specify that their bank account be automatically debited each month, or they can choose to pay the traditional way-by putting a check in the mail.
Expected fast draw
KUA expects the new online billing service to catch on quickly, drawing at least 2,500 customers by April 2000, and double that number (more than ten percent of their customer base) within two years. “It`s a great convenience for our customers, since they don`t have to find a stamp, write a check and put it in the mail,” says Geraghty. “It`s also a money-saver both for them and for us. It costs us 70 cents to generate, stuff and mail a bill, and only 30 cents to present it online. That`s a big difference when you are generating 50,000 plus bills a month.”
Electronic billing is fast becoming a necessity for all utility companies. Mike Geraghty puts it simply, “The electric utility industry can`t afford to be left in the dust when it comes to e-commerce.” And after 99 years, the hallmark of KUA`s continued success is its ability to stay in the vanguard of change. n
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