by Amanda Lannert, The Jellyvision Lab
Bills, bills, bills. Besides being the title of R&B group Destiny’s Child’s 1999 hit single, they’re also one of the most frequent concerns of utility customers.
“Why is my bill so high? How do I read my bill? How can I save money on my bill?” customers ask.
And because bills concern utility customers, they also concern utilities. Bill concerns are costly. Customers who think they’re charged too much without understanding how and why they’re billed likely call customer service, which increases call center staff costs and wait times for other customers. Worse, others look elsewhere to get their utility needs met.
Many utilities have to deal with this problem, including Florida’s JEA Inc. (formerly Jacksonville Electric Authority). The Jellyvision Lab recently helped JEA address this problem through a piece of Web communication called an Interactive Conversation, a rich media experience that creates the illusion that there’s a person just behind the screen speaking one-on-one with the visitor. Imagine interacting with the most engaging, knowledgeable member of the JEA call center staff.
It can work really well. When people started interacting with the JEA Interactive Conversation, they spent on average more than three minutes with it. Eighty-six percent said they understood their bills better, and 81 percent said they gained better ideas to save energy in their homes.
When provided the opportunity to give additional feedback, JEA customers shared positive responses such as:
- “This was very informative, as well as entertaining!”
- “Thank you, that really helped,” and
- “Great, funny and helpful presentation!!!!!!!!” (Yes, that person really typed all of those exclamation points.)
Here’s how an Interactive Conversation is set up: Just like JEA’s real-life call center staff, the virtual host of an Interactive Conversation adjusts in real time to a customer’s needs.
The Interactive Conversation asks a question (“Can I help you with your bill?”), the customer selects an answer (“Help me save money.”) and the Interactive Conversation responds (“Save money? Absolutely. Let’s talk about your appliances. How old is your dishwasher?”).
The goal was to create an advisor who answers customers’ questions about their bills, saving money on energy costs or both and who customers would want to spend time with instead of dialing the call center. The Interactive Conversation is less conventional than a bill insert or FAQ, but JEA’s Interactive Conversation has been successful.
The following are a few things we learned through our experience with JEA that any utility can replicate when creating content to explain bills to customers:
1. Use plain English. It’s easy to get caught up in terms such as kilowatt-hours, but when someone is confused or upset and is looking for answers, jargon gets in the way. If your best friend needs help with her energy bill, how would you talk her through it? You’d explain the terms she needs to use plainly, you’d skip the jargon and you’d walk her through the bill calmly while throwing in bits of humor to keep her from wanting to jab out her eyes. Communicate with customers as you’d talk to your best friend.
2. Ask simple questions. Asking simple questions and taking those answers into account will help get customers what they need as quickly as possible. Rather than assuming all customers want explanations of their full bills and want electricity-saving tips, ask them what they want and direct them only to that information. When you direct customers to what they want, they’re more likely to pay attention and appreciate the information. Listening matters.
3. Multimedia helps. Ever try to read a big block of text only to have your eyes glass over? Or start to doze off when listening to a presenter speak without a PowerPoint deck? Humans are wired to absorb multiple types of information at once. We are more likely to pay attention—and learn more—when information comes to us in a multimedia format. This is why TV kicked radio’s butt—it has audio and visuals—and why we often feel the need to doodle on a napkin or sketch on a whiteboard to express ideas. If you provide only blocks of text, you limit the ability of your message to get through.
4. Communicate like a human. Speak in plain language, ask simple questions, provide easy answers and use your voice and visual aids to express ideas.
And here’s one more tip: When you write copy for a website or brochure, say it out loud first. If it doesn’t sound the way someone would talk, rewrite it.
Remember those tips as you create content, and your number of calls about bills will drop—just like the number of radio requests for “Bills, Bills, Bills” has dropped since 1999.
Amanda Lannert is CEO of The Jellyvision Lab, where she applies brand management, strategic planning and product development disciplines to fuel the adoption of Interactive Conversations in the business marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @amandalannert.