by Chris Cherry, Pitney Bowes Business Insight
With electric utilities moving in greener directions, many are looking for ways to streamline and transform business processes for greater operational efficiency, and that includes the way they issue monthly bills.
Electric bills for both residential and business customers must be issued regularly and can be cumbersome, which makes these documents costly to produce and mail. In addition, paper-based communications in the physical world simply take time to produce, route and receive. While this process takes place, payments and resolution of bill issues are delayed.
A strategy to reduce the overall use of paper and move monthly bills and important notifications online with e-delivery can offer a substantial financial boost.
The time is right for electric utility customers as well. With environmental awareness high and many individuals regularly going online, they seem ready to change old habits to do their part to conserve resources. By offering greener options such as e-delivery, they gain additional convenience and benefits that can improve customer satisfaction ratings as well.
E-delivery for lower costs, faster payment — and less paper
Today’s e-delivery technology can help electric utilities:
* Save money on paper use, maintenance, and storage, print, postage, and physical waste;
* Speed cash flow by narrowing the timeframe between bill issuance and payment, and facilitating faster dispute resolution; and
* Make customer interactions more eco-friendly for a positive public image.
Making the move to e-delivery gives customers an online, real-time view of usage and balances, in addition to current and past bills or invoices. They can make payments and have convenience of converged billing, while interacting with customer service reps more easily for faster resolution.
B2B customers can employ analytics and reporting available with online invoices to improve the way they manage their electric utility expenses.
In addition, electric utilities can minimize risk and help ensure customer safety by getting important alerts and other critical announcements out through e-delivery channels in an instant.
Six ways to save
Paperless e-delivery technologies provide organizations with capabilities to save time and resources, while providing both consumer and business customers with similar green benefits.
1. Electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP) — Every month, countless consumers discover the benefits of paying their bills online through EBPP. The EBPP process employs a number of applications, including high-speed/high-volume e-presentment, e-payment, archiving, online account management and e-service. Such technologies can help electric utilities reduce printing, postage, paper and handling costs. Customers may also pay e-bills faster. The result? Reduced float, which directly improves cash flow and investment time.
2. E-invoicing with advanced reporting and analytics — For business clients with multiple facilities and electric utility accounts, the billing process becomes more complex. Factor in the need for business clients to route electric utility invoices throughout their organizations for payment approval.
That’s where offering e-invoicing with built-in workflow, dispute processing and advanced reporting/analytics capabilities comes in:
* Built-in invoice workflows help speed up the bill payment process with customized electronic approval paths to the appropriate individuals or groups for faster review, approval and payment.
* Automated dispute processing allows business clients to flag and dispute invoice line items, while not disrupting the payment of approved line items. Faster credit adjustments also become possible.
* Advanced data management can improve access to electric utility usage and expenditures and simplify downloading. Business users can create standard and custom reports to monitor and manage cost center expenses to stay on budget, while analyzing multiple accounts, locations, and services more effectively.
* Advanced user management helps control bill payment authorization limits and improves record keeping.
3. Email and SMS correspondence — Most large call centers are in the process of transitioning from being “call centers” to becoming “multi-channel contact centers.” In this transition, providing controlled and structured support for two-way email and SMS customer communications should be a top priority.
To serve customers in the best and quickest way possible, advanced e-messaging technology can help electric utilities expedite customer service queries by automatically indexing any email or SMS received and associating it with a single, customer-centric view. This, coupled with near real-time archiving, minimizes CSR keystrokes and vastly improves the customer experience.
4. Interactive correspondence — With e-technologies becoming more sophisticated, customer communications can be made as timely as necessary.
When customers make account changes, request information or place new orders by web, fax, phone, or other channels, systems can record these customer events and automatically trigger on-demand output such as confirmations, quotes or proposals to help close business faster.
Sometimes individualized, ad-hoc communications are needed. This may require real-time information and a human touch in order to complete. Additional technologies are available to provide faster, more intelligent, personal customer interaction, and with greater control.
5. Electronic document management — Electronic document management technologies provide a means for paperless reviews, revisions, and approvals. Additional benefits of e-document management include:
* Reduce on/off-site storage and retrieval costs
* Speed file retrieval times for archived files
* Lower disaster recovery costs
* Boost workflow efficiency
* Reduce litigation support costs
* Enhance security
All documents can be digitally signed with PKI based digital signatures. In addition, approved documents can be converted into PDF with watermark insertions.
6. Outsource options — For some electric utilities, going green with e-delivery may mean moving bill production to a third-party provider. Many flexible and cost-efficient alternatives to managing customer communications in-house are available.
Case in point: National Grid
Challenge: Providing past bills for dispute resolution or legal litigation was a time-consuming process, because these documents had to be created manually. The company also needed to provide its customers and customer service reps with online access to gas and electric services invoices.
Solution: National Grid implemented a centralized document archive and online document retrieval process via a full-service outsourced application.
Results: National Grid gained immediate online access to up to six years of commercial and industrial bills and two years of residential bills. The organization provides more efficient customer service and fast call resolutions, thereby lowering its call center costs. With over 125,000 customers in New York alone enrolled in e-billing, print and mail costs are significantly reduced.
Making the most of your paper mailings
Becoming more eco-wise can also mean switching to paper made from certified forests or increasing the use of recycled paper to produce customer bills. But there are additional options for electric utilities to make their paper billing process more efficient.
Mailing efficiency, customer data quality and location intelligence technologies can help keep mailing lists more accurate and up to date for less returned mail and waste. Companies can also target customers for more effectively with appropriate marketing offers.
With impending USPS rate changes and mandates for reducing undeliverable-as-addressed mail, efficient mailings are more important than ever.
Christopher Cherry is the director of communications industry strategy at Pitney Bowes MapInfo Corp. Cherry has been analyzing and advising in the communications sector for more than 15 years, and has worked to develop strategies for many providers.