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Three Keys to a Future-proof Billing Experience

From the dawn of civilization until about 25 years ago, life progressed without the internet. But in the span of time it takes for someone to be born and graduate from college, we’ve gone from asking, “What’s a ‘world wide web?’” to devising contingency plans for extended WiFi outages. The lesson: Humans quickly grow accustomed to certain conveniences.

This assertion is evidenced by technology companies like Uber, WhatsApp, Zelle, Snapchat, Instagram and Apple Pay becoming the new normal as decades-long standards for commerce fade from our memory. Today’s bill paying experience aligns with all the other expectations of modern life: it should be digitally integrated in a way that makes sense to the way each user lives their life. 

With this understanding as a backdrop, utility companies are more frequently offering billing experiences that focus on innovation, reflect changes in consumer behavior and protect more consumer data.

Infusing Innovation into Bill Payment Strategies

Bill payments were once fairly simple: You received a paper bill, and you either mailed in a check or you went to a walk-in location and paid with cash.  After the introduction of the Internet, we all went into digital learning mode as we sought to understand these newer technologies, which led to waves of behavioral shifts:

  • Wave 1, Offline to Online – In the mid-1990s, the emergence of the Internet ushered in a whole new world of self-service, and consumers were introduced to online bill payment.
  • Wave 2, Bank Bill Payment to Biller Direct – By the year 2000, 50 percent of Americans had Internet connectivity, and companies in several industries became more intentional about their self-service efforts to serve consumers, leading a migration to biller sites directly.
  • Wave 3, Predominantly Digital – Today, nearly 60 percent of all bill payments occurring online, with 40 percent at a biller’s site directly, 15 percent using bank bill pay and the remainder paying via third party sites.

However, 23 percent of consumers have not made the transition to digital and still receive their paper bill, and mail in a check. While it’s important to offer channels for this consumer segment, its size is shrinking each year. Technology innovations continue to accelerate, which requires billing strategies that consider how consumers intersect with the company they are paying, and where they choose to interact.

Understanding Customer Behavior

Whether a digital native or a digital learner, technology has had an unquestioned impact on the lives of just about everyone.  Leading tech companies have conditioned us to expect an ultra-convenient experience, personalized and in real time.  The reality is, the only thing advancing faster than technology is consumer expectations. 

Certainly the mobile device is now central to everything we do, but newer technologies are driving different expectations. A 2018 Salesforce study asked consumers what technology has transformed, is transforming or will transform their experience within five years. Results found that 87 percent of respondents listed AI/cloud and voice assistants and 77 percent said chatbots.

With these expectations in mind, we see forward-thinking utility companies leaning on billing experiences that start with an action-focused conversational platform based on content and information. At a deeper level, it should transition into a more immersive experience – with contextual interaction and multiple channels and devices – that is invisible, transparent and natural.

Protecting Consumer Data

The threat of data breaches is always present – and increasing – but working with a billing solution partner that implements rigorous standards and processes to protect data can significantly reduce the possibility and magnitude of a breach. First, make sure your partner has the most stringent industry certifications, which may include:

  • The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): This certification ensures that companies that accept, process, store or transmit credit card information maintain a secure environment.
  • Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST): Originally established to test an organization against HIPAA controls, HITRUST is the gold standard of security and privacy, and aligns with National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity, PCI and HIPAA control requirements. Certification requires assessment by two independent entities.

Next, be sure to review a potential partner’s Attestation of Compliance (AOC), which is a form for merchants and service providers to attest to the results of a PCI DSS assessment. You should also request their System and Organization Controls (SOC) audit, which highlights the organization’s internal controls for security, availability, processing, integrity, confidentiality and privacy. Investment is critical in a world of constantly evolving threats and an ever-changing landscape, so be certain to know the level of security training and ongoing commitment from your partner organization.

If the only constant is change, then preparing for it is critical to success. By doubling down on a billing experience that stays ahead of customer preference through continuous innovation, an understanding of customer behavior and stringent protection of data, utility companies will be better positioned to best serve their customers today and for years to come. 

Robert S. Houser's picture

Thank Robert S. for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 5, 2019 11:35 pm GMT

However, 23 percent of consumers have not made the transition to digital and still receive their paper bill, and mail in a check. While it’s important to offer channels for this consumer segment, its size is shrinking each year.

At what point do you think utilities would be compelled to finally force (as gently and gracefully as possible) these holdouts into digital billing solutions?

Robert S. Houser's picture
Robert S. Houser on Dec 20, 2019 6:11 pm GMT

Energy companies are aggressively pursuing paperless adoption with incentive programs.  They are experimenting with opt-in and opt-out programs, however, there is always a segment that will require paper service.  

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