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Talking today's billing, payments & customer experience landscape

March 5, 2018   |   Customer Experience

Use Billing to Impact Customer Service Perception and Costs

For utility providers, billing and service quality are intrinsically linked. Billing-related inquiries account for 42% of utility customer service calls, surpassing topics like outages and reliability. Not only do these calls consume expensive call center resources, they can also negatively impact customer satisfaction levels. As such, utility organizations investing in customer experience improvement cannot overlook billing as a core component of their overall strategy.

Let’s take a look at some of the communications tools utility providers can use to minimize the different types of customer support calls they receive around billing.

#1: “My bill is inaccurately high.”

Little is more frustrating to a customer than feeling that they are being overcharged. If they receive a bill and find themselves owing more than expected, their first call is typically to the support center, ready to challenge the charges. The call center must then locate and delve back through the customer’s usage report to clarify the bill, which requires a great deal of time for both the support staff and the caller.

Customer service is no longer merely a cost center: it is a powerful business differentiator that can make or break a company’s ability to win the hearts of customers.

The Fix: Integrating usage information into each bill, which visualizes month-over-month changes in consumption, can help customers quickly identify spikes in their usage and easily correlate differences in charges. Providing this additional tracking data reinforces why the bill may be more or less than previous months, and alleviates customers’ fear that they are being overcharged by providing greater transparency into the reason for their charges.

Additionally, more and more utility providers are offering ‘high bill alerts’ which are sent out between billing cycles. This proactive communication provides an estimate of what the customer should expect to be billed at the end of the month, and prepares him or her for potentially higher charges. Some even include actionable tips to help the customer immediately lower their consumption and help offset increases in their coming bill. It has been shown that implementing these types of notifications creates substantial savings to utility providers’ customer service costs, lowering high bill related call volume by as much as 19%.

#2: “My account is showing a late fee.” / “My service has been shut off.”

Approximately 1 in 4 Americans do not pay bills on time. Many times, though, it is not intentional: they may have mailed a payment within the appropriate collection period, but it was not delivered by the due date, or may have misremembered paying the bill and end up realizing they didn’t at all. The consequences of this can range from late fee charges to utility shut offs that can significantly interrupt the customer’s daily life. Late fees may not show up until the next bill, or shut off could happen without warning, and customers may be confused or upset when they call for support. This feeling of being ‘left in the dark’ can taint their perception of their utility provider.

The Fix: Utility providers can use convenient, cost-effective electronic channels to proactively remind customers of upcoming due dates, as well as deliver alerts for missed payments. Whether sent via email, text, or IVR, these notifications can help customers keep their payment schedules on track. In fact, they can be a great way to improve customer experience, as an Opower survey showed 4 out of 5 utility customers were interested in receiving billing alerts.
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Additionally, utility providers can consider giving customers access to a self-service portal where they can log in and review account information at any time. Not only does this greatly reduce inquiries to the call center to obtain those updates; it can also help utility companies collect funds faster via e-payment. Case in point: one of our utility customers shared with us that since implementing Level One’s Customer Self-Service Portal, they have increased online payment adoption by 35%.

#3: “I’m having trouble paying my bill.”

In some cases, a customer may be ready to go through with the process of paying a bill through his or her usual channel, but encounters issues that make it impossible to pay on time. Perhaps they cannot access their typical e-payment platform, or have logged in but cannot easily find their bill information. These situations are typically met with a call to customer support to prevent late fees and ensure the timely receipt of payment.

The Fix: Today, every utility provider knows that a multi-channel strategy is necessary, not only to accommodate customer preferences but also to give customers multiple options to remit payment on time. But beyond simply offering multiple channels, utility companies must ensure they can uphold a consistent, intuitive user experience across all possible customer interaction points, enabling customers to easily self-resolve issues and, in turn, minimize time-consuming customer service calls.

With brands across sectors striving to deliver more personalized, higher quality service experiences, customer service is no longer merely a cost center: it is a powerful business differentiator that can make or break a company’s ability to win the hearts of customers. For utility providers, billing is a major part of the customer service equation, and when providers can leverage their bills as a vehicle to improve customer experience while decreasing call center inquiries, it becomes a win-win for company and their customers.

Are you interested in learning how you can evolve your billing strategy to differentiate your customer service? I’d be happy to speak with you—let’s get in touch about scheduling a meeting.