When e-billing first surfaced it was hailed as a great way to save paper, and at that time it would have been difficult to predict how it would change utility companies’ relationships with customers.
Many companies assumed when e-billing hit the market, it would be enough to send their customers a .pdf version of a bill. When that did not satisfy the customer need, companies implemented online billing with a call center-focused structure, but again, initial implementation was disappointing.
It wasn’t until free online home banking became available to customers that interest in e-billing gained in popularity. Banks recognized that to increase customer retention, it was necessary to provide customer information online so customers could view all their accounts in real time and pay their bills at their convenience.
Following the banking industry lead, other industries began rolling out e-billing options to provide customers with similar accessibility to their accounts and billing information.
Within the past few years, the utility industry saw the need for change when more power plants began closing as effects of the recession. Utility companies had to increase their service charges to customers because of the decline in energy output. As customers saw a rapid rise in energy costs, they complained more to call centers.
Call handling costs skyrocketed. Swamped call centers also struggled with the disconnect between what they were looking at and what customers were seeing on their bills.
Some call centers were unable to see the same bill customers were seeing, causing a void in the centers’ ability to help customers fully solve the issue and further heightening customer frustrations.
Utility companies recognized they needed a billing change to improve their customer relationships. They then implemented the smart e-bill, allowing customers to view their bills online through a customized billing portal.
They understood the benefits of providing customers with information about their bills and giving them information about where they spend their money and how they can improve savings by better using the energy services on offer.
Many utility companies also recognized they can increase customer retention and capitalize on business opportunities, such as cross-selling, by giving their customers increased access to their consumption information and how they’re using those services monthly.
Utility companies use smart e-billing to personalize billing for customers. Bills no longer serve as simple statements of balances owed on accounts and instead allow companies to customize content based on customers’ needs.
Smart e-billing gives businesses control within the portal to customize what particular information different internal users are allowed to see. Customers can analyze their energy use, enabling them to forecast the energy price by a specific timeframe and fully anticipate the overhead accurately and manage their usage appropriately.
Using customer data for business intelligence, utility companies can identify customers who would be most interested in customer rewards programs or environmental incentives.
They can team with appliance companies for cross-selling opportunities with current customers by providing ways to reduce their utility consumption and costs by offering customers savings on low-energy appliances.
Moreover, utility companies use smart e-billing to provide customers with higher-quality information and segment customers’ in-bound calls to the proper channels based on what’s inside their bills. The call center has the resources to look at the actual bills customers see.
This enables representatives to service customers quickly, assisting them if they are struggling to answer questions regarding their e-bills. This also allows the correct call center representatives to service customers so any situation can be resolved quickly.
Before smart e-billing options can be made available to the customer base, utility companies must correlate their customer data across all their network channels and organize it in one central billing portal.
Using analytics technology to accomplish this improves the natural touch point with customers, by having all personal information correlated and available through a user-friendly location. Using a smart e-billing portal, customers may suppress their paper consumption, which allows utility companies to decrease paper billing costs, including postage.
Once the data has been correlated and is ready to be implemented in a portal, a company should have some key features with its e-billing option to offer customers the best portal, including:
* Offer a comprehensive solution around billing and payments service request management within the billing portal. The portal should include billing analytics and reporting function, especially for business customers.
* Provide self-service solutions for customers who also create utility opportunities.
* Include multichannel convenience payment solutions by offering the option to pay bills by credit card, mobile phones, PayPal, etc. Utility companies should stay current with their services and be able to offer the option to pay a bill by any new channel shortly after it becomes prevalent in the market.
* Supply inside the billing portal various cross-sell and up-sell features, and provide customers with an option to do paper suppression.
* Give customers a clear, actionable, two-way, personalized work flow-based communication. Customers aren’t going to be working only through the portal; they will want communication through e-mail, interactive voice response, mobile phone via text message and social media channels.
Utility companies can implement smart e-billing as a strong solution to help decrease paper consumption, improve customer service, reduce call center costs and drive personalized offers based on customer intelligence.