Billing and Payments

Leveraging electronic bill presentment and payment technology can help water and wastewater utilities adapt seamlessly to the changing needs of their customers.

Dec 2nd, 2018
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By Alison Arthur

Five Simple Ways to Reduce Customer Service Costs

Billing and payments are among the most frequent touch points that water and wastewater utility providers have with their customers. Although utilities primarily use their billing communications to convey timely account information, such as payment due dates and balance amounts, they can also use these bills to deliver relevant news to their communities.

Billing and payments are also two areas where customer questions can arise most often. Let’s use the example of a customer who misplaces his paper bill and can’t recall when the balance is due or how much he owes. Not wanting to miss a payment on the account, the customer might feel compelled to call the water utility’s customer service center to get the necessary information and even make a payment over the phone.

While these routine calls can provide a satisfactory point of contact with customers, they can also be costly for water utilities’ bottom lines. Estimates suggest that it costs approximately $1 per minute for a call center to service a customer, although this estimate can vary depending on a number of factors.1 Using this as a benchmark, a 5-minute call to inquire about an outstanding balance can cost $5.00. If a utility provider is fielding dozens of similar calls per day, these costs can become a significant operational expense.

Offering electronic billing and payments can free up call-service times and allow a utility to fulfill simple customer service requests related to billing and payments in a more cost-efficient manner. ©bernardbodo/stock.adobe.com

How can water and wastewater utilities fulfill simple customer service requests related to billing and payments in a more cost-efficient, customer-friendly way? The answer might lie in leveraging technology that helps customers self-serve while freeing up customer service representatives to address more pressing inquiries. Here are five ways electronic bill presentment and payments (EBPP) technology can reduce call center volume and its associated costs for water and wastewater utility providers.

1. Delivering eco-friendly e-bills to customers.

Switching from paper bills to electronic billing can help water and wastewater utilities reduce the costs of printing, fulfilling, and mailing paper bills. Through their online billing accounts, customers can receive notifications when their balances are due and retain several months’ worth of bills, eliminating the worry of misplacing paper copies. E-billing is also an eco-­friendly option that puts less stress on natural resources, creating a “feel-good” factor for customers.

2. Encouraging customers to make electronic payments.

Some customers just prefer the tactile nature of making in-person payments or sending personal checks in the mail. While it’s important to support these traditional payment methods, processing these payments can result in significant operational costs for water and wastewater utility providers. Guiding customers toward electronic payments can free up staff to focus on more valuable endeavors than managing manual account payments.

3. Automating payments to help prevent past due accounts.

As all businesses do, water and wastewater utility providers depend on a steady, predictable stream of income. Late and missed bill payments can have a significant impact on the amount of working capital available to keep operations running smoothly. Bill payment technology can make it easy for customers to automate their payments and allow water utilities to more accurately predict incoming cash flow. For example, customers might be able to schedule recurring payments aligned with their paycheck cycles or take advantage of automatic payments that are scheduled for a specific date and amount determined by the utility provider.

Customers can now pay their bills from the palms of their hands on their mobile devices, and even via text-messaging apps. ©Artem/stock.adobe.com

4. Sending customers account-related alerts and notifications in a cost-efficient manner.

Chasing down late and missed payments through one-on-one outreach can result in significant expenses for water and wastewater utility providers. Proactive account alerts and notifications sent via email and/or SMS text messages can help relieve this burden. Giving customers the opportunity to self-select how and when they receive account-related alerts and notifications can be an effective first step in eliminating missed payments before they occur.

5. Adapting quickly to changes in customer payment preferences and behavior.

The ways in which customers can pay their bills are changing faster than ever before. It’s not just about online payments any longer — customers can now pay their bills from the palms of their hands on their mobile devices and even via text-messaging apps. Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence are making bill payment possible through cutting-edge channels like Facebook Messenger, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. While it may seem overwhelming or even impossible to keep up with this pace of change, leveraging EBPP technology can help water and wastewater utilities adapt seamlessly to the changing needs of their customers. WW

About the Author: Alison Arthur creates timely product marketing and thought leadership content that keeps Alacriti’s community informed of the latest developments in billing and payments technology. With a background in payments and financial services, she specializes in composing content related to technology, security, compliance, and overall industry trends.

References

1. Virtual Hold Technology Solutions LLC. “What is cost per minute?” Retrieved from https://www.vhtcx.com/call-center-metrics/cost-per-minute/ on Oct. 26, 2018.

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