Make the Most of Customer Billing Challenges

As a result of high electric and home heating costs, the public has surely been spending more time reading bills lately as they try to understand what they’re paying for.

At the same time, pressure from regulators to produce easier-to-read statements, along with the collective industry move toward a more customer-friendly culture, make it necessary for utilities to rethink strategies when it comes to communicating with customers. A good place to start is with the monthly bill, the utility’s most frequent customer touch-point.

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Implementing an enterprise personalization solution to create all of your customer communications, including clearer billing statements with targeted messages that up-sell and cross-sell, can allow you to get personalized content to your customers faster, more consistently, and for a lower cost.

meeting customer expectations every month

Utility bills provide a monthly “meeting” with customers and create an opportunity to communicate helpful tips for controlling costs, as well as relevant and timely information about new products and services. But personalizing bills can be complex, with different design formats for residential and commercial customers and multiple output formats to accommodate archival systems and different customer delivery channels.

Implementing an enterprise personalization solution addresses these issues. With the right technology, you can take information from disparate systems and seamlessly merge it into a single billing statement to create customer-focused communications that will not only meet and exceed customer needs and expectations, but also reduce both the time and cost of billing output, reduce customer care costs and provide incremental revenue.

Enterprise personalization software can maximize the impact of monthly statements, provide more targeted and personalized communications that increase customer satisfaction ratings, and dramatically cut printing and mailing costs.

enhance the statement’s readability

Deliver relevant information based on the customer’s demographics. A family with young children has needs and interests that are different from the empty nesters. And language must be taken into account; the nation’s Hispanic population, for instance, has increased by 60 percent in the last 10 years.

For utilities that provide consolidated billing for multiple services, create pie charts that show each service’s share of the total bill and arrange content into columns for easier reading. Streamline and improve content readability through the use of color and graphics. Color has been known to help reduce errors and increase comprehension in transactional print materials such as bills, statements and explanations of benefits. Use spot color or formatting and dynamic placement to ensure the reader doesn’t miss important information.

Take advantage of white space. Using it to cross sell or enhance important information can result in a more satisfied customer and more dollars at the bottom line. With the right technology, utilities can access customer relationship management (CRM) data and leverage it to create personalized marketing messages that can be dynamically placed in available white space on the bill, communicating the availability of additional products and services, such as green power programs, innovative pricing and special energy efficiency rebates.

cut printing and mailing costs

Place marketing promotions directly on the bill, where customers are more likely to read them, rather than including expensive, and often overlooked, inserts. It’s becoming increasingly popular to promote complex billing, which offers special rates to customers willing to alter energy use, payment price and frequency, by using the monthly bill.

Delete unnecessary information. Baltimore Gas & Electric deleted information from its statement that customers said they no longer needed, resulting in a reduction of 7 million sheets per year in paper output-a savings of $297,000 annually in printing and mailing costs.

customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal

Savings can be huge and customer satisfaction increased when you couple a personalized communications strategy with the right technology. And, by improving the readability and clarity of the bill, such as providing explanations right next to transactions, you will also reduce calls to your call center.

Remember, customers are in control today and their expectations are on the rise. Forward-thinking utilities are exploring ways to increase customer satisfaction by taking full advantage of the monthly billing statement, the utility’s most regular contact with the customer. Implementing a well thought-out customer communication strategy can move you ahead of the competition by dramatically reducing document production costs, while getting important information to your customers faster and with a personal touch.

And most importantly, it will help keep your customers satisfied in the long run.

Jim Norton is vice president of utilities practice for Exstream Software. You can contact Exstream at info@exstream.com or visit www.exstream.com.

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