By Edward Martinez, Excelergy Corp.
Customers are increasingly demanding choices-product choices, service choices, price choices and payment choices-that utilities, energy marketers and billing agents must provide if they are to succeed in the new energy economy. If they don’t, their competitors will. It’s that simple.
Electronic bill presentation and payment (EBPP) emerged in the 1990s as an efficient and inexpensive way to deliver billing information to customers around the world. Today-in the energy industry as in others-this new means of customer interaction promises far more than that. It can fundamentally change the way companies manage and communicate with their customers.
Already EBPP is empowering utilities and energy providers to capture new market share while controlling customer defections, things that weren’t considered part of past billing systems. Further benefits now being realized by companies presenting bills and statements on the Internet include increased revenues generated through targeted product and service marketing programs, increased customer acquisition and retention achieved through the offering of value-added services, as well as reduced operational costs achieved though self-service and e-commerce efficiencies.
New frontiers of customer relationship management play directly to EBPP’s strengths. EBPP transforms the customer interaction function from the brick-and-mortar’s “please-hold-while-we-transfer-your-call” experience to a more reliable, efficient, 24-hour service using the new electronic medium. And since the Internet has become a primary gateway through which businesses and customers can have a one-to-one exchange, EBPP opens the Web as a new, yet essential channel for customer service, support and sales opportunities.
Reducing costs while expanding service
A significant characteristic of EBPP is its ability to reduce cost associated with maintaining customer relationships. There are five areas of potential cost reductions that EBPP offers:
- Bill rendering and postage. Even the most efficient biller is unable to cut costs associated with postage and paper; the elimination of paper bills could save up to 40 percent of average bill costs.
- Payment processing. Customers who pay via a bank service do so with available funds, reducing the cost of managing transactions rejected due to bounced checks.
- Mail and check clearance float. Bills are made available sooner to customers, as is the payment submitted to the company.
- Customer care. A significant portion of customer calls and complaints are related to billing issues.
- Collections and credit management. Customers with varying risk assessments can be handled differently and efficiently through more timely alerts and handling of overdue situations.
EBPP’s technological requirements
In today’s economy, competitive energy companies are exploring new technologies that will help them streamline their back- and front-office operations. At the same time, they are requiring comprehensive technology and systems infrastructure capable of handling real-time billing and customer information. Electronic bill presentation and payment scores very highly on both of these fronts.
When choosing an EBPP vendor, energy companies are looking for certain key aspects that are critical to success in realizing the full benefits of EBPP. Organizations who have decided to incorporate EBPP as part of their overall customer service solution typically focus on the following critical elements:
- seamless and transparent integration with the retail energy billing system;
- ability to migrate to a true online account management solution that supports the needs of varying customer segments (retail, small business, commercial & industrial);
- high volume data storage to enable retrieval of bill and usage history for analytical purposes;
- customer enrollment capabilities;
- advanced composition/content formatting;
- notification mechanism;
- payment and posting;
- consolidator integration to support mass markets and key account requirements;
- marketing capabilities for online advertising and cross-selling promotions.
The prioritization of these key elements will vary from company to company, but they all should be present in an advanced EBPP system.
In short, for those utilities or service providers looking to take full advantage of the new customer interactivity provided by the Internet, EBPP now represents an indispensable extension of their customer interaction systems. And it really is the best of both worlds, given the expanding array of benefits to both energy company and energy consumer.
Edward Martinez is the customer billing and information systems product manager for Excelergy Corp., software technology firm based in Lexington, Mass. (781-372-5000; www.excelergy.com). Mr. Martinez can be reached in Excelergy’s Atlanta office at 678-613-7786 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.