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Power to the People: Evolving Your Bill Payment Options

Robert S. Houser's picture
SVP, Product Management & Strategy Biller Solutions, Fiserv

Goal-oriented, performance-driven individual with strong interpersonal, financial modeling, and business partnering skills. An organized, ethical team player with expertise in using exceptional...

  • Member since 2019
  • 9 items added with 7,947 views
  • May 6, 2021

By Rob Houser, Fiserv

Energy companies are witnessing a rapid evolution in bill pay fueled by constantly rising consumer expectations, and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It's a complex challenge that calls for flexibility and a willingness to expand the definition of bill pay beyond making a repeated payment for a regular service. In this article, we discuss three ways you can enhance customer satisfaction and engagement by evolving your bill payment options.

Making Bill Pay Easy

Many people remain financially stressed as the pandemic continues to wreak economic havoc. This includes utility customers who, due to financial hardships, may have to prioritize certain bills over others. According to the 2020 Fiserv Expectations & Experiences: Consumer Payments survey, electricity, gas and water bills, along with mortgage/rent and wireless bills, are consumers’ top five monthly bill payment priorities.   

But utilities are not out of the woods; ease of bill payment can also affect who gets paid. It’s more important than ever for utilities to take stock of their billing and payment strategies to ensure they are aligned with the rapidly changing needs of their customers. Now is the time to take a fresh look at how and where utility customers can pay their bills, with the goal of making it easier to pay through the channels that customers prefer.

Since customers often pay their bills three or four different ways each month, utilities should offer multi-channel payment options. While that is becoming table stakes in today’s billing and payments landscape, what can really set your provider apart is making each step as easy as possible by optimizing every touchpoint. For example, if a customer goes to a utility website to pay their bill, is the option to “Pay My Bill” easy to find and activate, with minimal clicks? Just as importantly, is the website design responsive to optimize viewing from a mobile device, or better yet, is there a dedicated mobile app with intuitive navigation? These are some helpful prompts to think through on the path to simplifying the payments experience.

Meeting Customers Where They Are

In this case, the notion of meeting customers “where they are” has both a physical context of offering in-person payment options, as well as figuratively meeting customers where they are on their path to digital adoption. Providing payment options for customers all along the spectrum – from those with limited digital inclination to those who do everything online – will continue to be important.

For those customers who are more digitally inclined, the pandemic accelerated their preference to complete all sorts of transactions digitally. To get ahead of that curve, many utilities quickly optimized and expanded bill payment options to ensure customers could pay online or via their mobile device. Since 58% of consumers cite the importance of being able to view their digital bill in multiple places, utilities should enable customers to do just that, including through the utility’s website, at their bank and through a mobile wallet.

Not surprisingly given the economic landscape, credit cards also remain a popular way to pay bills, so utilities should include that option if it is not already part of their current payment offerings. To that end, we’ve seen a continued shift to supporting customers who want to pay in this way by not charging an additional fee to pay by card. It’s another way to be there for your customers where (and when) they need you.  

While many people made the shift to digital bill payment as the pandemic took hold, not all customers are jumping on the digital bandwagon; many still prefer to pay with cash. For those customers who are either unable to or who don’t want to take advantage of electronic payment options, it is important for utilities to maintain their walk-up windows for in-person cash and other payments.

Customizing the Experience

One of the benefits of embracing digital, for both the provider and the customer, is the ability to personalize the bill pay experience. In fact, 73% of consumers said they would be interested in receiving electronic reminders when a bill is due via email alert, mobile notification or text. 

Fortunately, as energy providers develop deeper digital connections with their customers, the insights that come along with the data can drive more opportunities for personalization. We already see this use of data powering personalization when, for example, records show a customer’s electric usage spiking, and the provider suggests energy-saving tips, such as “switch to LED light bulbs to lower electric usage.” Similarly, if a utility notices that a customer who usually pays their bill a week ahead of the due date has missed that payment opportunity, a reminder notification can keep payments on track and avoid potential service interruptions.

A New Opportunity Every Month

Bill presentment and payment are important customer touchpoints, and every month provides a new opportunity for energy providers to enhance these critical relationships.

Positioned against pandemic-driven changes in consumer preference for how and where they pay their bills, utilities need to make it as easy as possible for customers to pay their energy bills. This means advancing bill payment strategies to align with consumers’ ongoing embrace of digital channels while also offering continued availability of in-person options to help customers pay in ways that are easy and comfortable for them.

The bottom line: By allowing customers to pay their bills at their point of preference, energy providers can help ensure consistent payments, while enhancing the customer experience.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 6, 2021

In fact, 73% of    consumers said they would be interested in receiving electronic reminders when a bill is due via email alert, mobile notification or text. 

How is this number so high but still not all utilities offer it? Is it ignorance of that need of the customer or just delaying it as not a priority? 

Robert S. Houser's picture
Robert S. Houser on May 14, 2021

The majority of utilities do provide the ability to set up reminders, but not all do a good job of communicating the capability to customers. According to our research only 26% of consumers say they’ve received communication on bill pay reminders from their biller.  So lack of awareness results in a gap between interest and actual usage. 

Robert S. Houser's picture
Thank Robert S. for the Post!
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