Educating, Engaging and Transacting with Consumers Through the eChannel

Dec. 1, 2010
As the utility sector makes the move to online billing and continues to embrace the green trend, it is understood that the cost to produce monthly statements to customers can be in the millions, while using eBilling technologies can cost only pennies per consumer.

By Doug Thompson

As the utility sector makes the move to online billing and continues to embrace the green trend, it is understood that the cost to produce monthly statements to customers can be in the millions, while using eBilling technologies can cost only pennies per consumer.

According to a 2010 study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, every paper statement eliminated and converted into a paperless eBill saves those billers approximately $1 in postage, paper and labor costs. The same study suggests that the general population's migration to online banking and electronic payments is helping to convert customers to eBills, citing that 40 percent of consumers who pay at the biller sites sign up for electronic billing.

Cutting operating costs is only one compelling reason to drive consumers toward using electronic channels to interact with their utility service provider. Not just for paying bills, electronic communications can also offer self-service customer care tools as well.

So why is the adoption rate for electronic communications so low within the utilities sector, and what is required to garner the same type of conversion rates for utilities including water and wastewater management service providers as other industries?

For more than 25 years, customer interaction management company CSG Systems has been driving these same changes within the cable industry with a 25 to 30 percent suppression rate on eBilling alone. Here are several strategies to help get your customers to adopt and embrace eCare solutions. There's a huge distinction between adoption (customers signing up to receive electronic bills in addition to printed bills) and suppression (customers opting out of receiving printed bills). Clearly, the momentous cost savings are associated with suppression.

Start with a customer education campaign to build awareness. The obvious environmental savings is motivating to most customers. PayitGreen, an advocacy group supporting electronic billing, states that the average American household can avoid the release of 63 gallons of wastewater into the environment by switching to eBills, statements and payments each year. To determine your utility's potential savings try the business calculator at

Utilities can share their own internal "green" or water conservation programs more effectively by sending out email and SMS alerts based on usage with surrounding content or using dynamic content with standard notification to draw attention to the "savings" programs.

CSG Systems has discovered that customers that are set up for recurring payments are 3-4 times more likely to suppress the printed statements, so just by getting clients to go to a recurring bill will quickly increase suppression rates.

Incent your customers to go paperless. We have seen suppression rates reach 92% when a customer is given an incentive to move online. In the cable industry for example, customers can receive a premium movie channel free for 6 months when they go green.

The Javelin study also revealed that utilities saw an improved cash flow, more seamless customer relationships, fewer returned payments, and less chance for payment fraud by creating online channels to communicate with customers.

Create a customer dashboard. You can display more data associated with your customers' usage patterns and behavior by creating a "My Account" dashboard. You will also have the ability to include more information and content without increasing costs or adding confusion by using electronic versus print methods. Utilities can better communicate:

  • Energy or water conservation tips and additional educational content.
  • Internal pricing options to offer rebates for certain actions by comparing and contrasting how various rate structures will affect your customer's current usage behavior.
  • Cross promotions with utility providers or other third party organizations. For example, offer a coupon at a certain local retailer to customers who choose to 'go green'.

Reminding customers through frequent promotion of the benefits of moving to eBilling is key to adoption and one of the most efficient ways to get customers to convert. Customer satisfaction rates will also increase and utilities can realize more than just an improved bottom line.

About the Author: Doug Thompson, Lead Product Strategist for CSG Systems' Utility practice, brings over 17 years of experience in customer billing and communications tools that help utilities increase customer satisfaction while driving down the cost to serve. He can be reached at [email protected].

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