BY PHIL SPRADLIN, ONLINE RESOURCES CORP.
As the mobile revolution takes off, anytime, anywhere customer accessibility has transitioned from an optional feature to an essential component of a successful billing and payment strategy for utilities. Across the country, organizations quickly are realizing the importance of providing the best mobile bill pay services.
According to a Chartwell Inc. study, 70 percent of utilities have or are seriously considering deploying mobile alerts, mobile e-bills and mobile bill pay services to their customers.
These demonstrate the demand for a comprehensive mobile experience throughout the billing cycle.
Further, Aite Group LLC estimates that mobile bill payment volume in 2013 is projected to increase 26 percent from 2012 totals of $37 billion to $50 billion.
For utilities, implementing a mobile billing and payment system is an essential step toward meeting customer expectations. Its capabilities, however, will determine whether the system is exceptional or inadequate.
Trusting Paperless Billing
With more than 2.3 trillion text messages sent and more than 40 billion apps downloaded from Apple, according to CTIA, customer reliance on mobile devices is clear.
Still, Javelin Strategy & Research found that the No. 1 reason consumers continue to prefer a paper bill is because it serves as a tangible reminder that the bill is due.
For utilities, the actual bills are the most frequent touch points with their customers and provide a key opportunity to make the transition to a paperless relationship—a move that can reduce expenses as much as 50 cents per bill per month, according to BlueFlame Consulting.
Customers already have embraced e-bill presentment, but inconsistencies in billing notification, access and ability to pay have resulted in few customers’ turning off their paper bills.
BlueFlame Consulting found utilities are averaging just 12 percent paper bill suppression.
By providing a secure mobile bill pay service that erases the pain points traditionally associated with paperless billing—lost reminders, hard-to-access full bill, etc.—utilities can give customers the necessary confidence to finally switch to paperless billing.
In addition, utilities can leverage paper bills to communicate the benefits of going paperless. Paper bills provide an opportunity to make the switch at the point of presentment. Placing QR codes on paper bills allows customers to open websites from their smart phones to pay their bills and activate paperless billing quickly and seamlessly.
Integration through Every Channel
According to comScore Inc., 36.3 percent of mobile customers depend on all three forms of mobile capabilities—mobile apps, text and mobile browser—to access and manage their accounts, and because of the options for accessing a payment account, utilities must be prepared to operate through all forms of mobile billing to maximize the convenience and match consumers’ preferences.
Consistent information across channels is a vital component of any mobile bill pay system. Securely housed personal financial information enables customers to view and pay their bills from mobile optimized browsers, mobile apps or text without having to choose a different username and password from the Web or re-enter funding accounts used on another electronic channel.
Enabling paper suppression from mobile apps and mobile websites in addition to utilities’ existing sites provides new opportunities, but customer suppression preferences must update consistently across channels.
From an operations standpoint, a single e-bill and payment system across mobile browser, mobile apps, text, Web, interactive voice response and live agents means less work for the organization.
For instance, using a single administrative tool to manage all payment options eliminates additional training for customer care representatives that otherwise would be required.
Treasury and remittance processing teams continue using single payment files, and information technology departments are spared hurdles associated with system updates and issues with deploying new code across multiple platforms or applications.
A Personal Experience
Utilities that make customer preferences a priority will see quickly how the mobile channel can deepen those relationships.
A comprehensive and seamless mobile billing and payment system benefits consumers by providing the ability to communicate with their utilities as desired.
This includes more common activities such as inquiring and receiving a text regarding an upcoming due date or amount or alerts that a credit card on file is about to expire.
Utility customers feel more in control when their needs are met in a flexible manner, such as choosing the dates and delivery of notifications.
By providing customers preferred methods based on specific preferences, utilities can meet those identified needs while gradually de-enrolling customers from their unused channels such as paper.
Also, utilities that have identified customers’ preferred modes of interaction then can direct specific offers, incentives and other targeted marketing promotions more appropriately, as opposed to traditional marketing methods that are less successful.
Sustainable Mobile Payment Success
As consumers’ expectations of a stellar mobile bill pay system increase, utilities must be prepared to mobilize the billing cycle to increase satisfaction and paperless adoption for stronger relationships with customers.
Utilities idly standing by will find themselves quickly falling behind those that recognize the necessity of integrating their billing and payments systems with mobile browser sites, text and app interactions.
Mobile technology will continue evolving rapidly in the coming years. As the ecosystem promotes customer convenience and the need for personalization, utilities need to offer these services with tools that build trust and integrate comprehensively with their organizations in a flexible manner.
Phil Spradlin is a senior market manager at Online Resources Corp., a provider of online financial services. He has a bachelor’s degree in commerce from the University of Virginia and eight years of experience in solving organizations’ biggest billing and payment challenges. For more information, visit http://orcc.com.
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