Self-Serve & Mobile Payment Options Provide Convenience for Customers, Timely Payments for Utilities

As municipalities across the United States continue to deliver essential services, such as water, they rely on timely receipt of payments from their customers...

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By Behshad Hastibakhsh

In today's tough economic environment, municipalities and their residents alike feel the negative impacts of financial hardships. As municipalities across the United States continue to deliver essential services, such as water, they rely on timely receipt of payments from their customers.

For residents, access to essential services like water is a basic need. Having convenient ways to pay bills in an expedited manner is critical to ensuring continuous access to these essential services. The need for convenient, expedited payment options has led to innovative alternative payment solutions that help consumers effectively manage personal finances and their bill payments when and how they want.


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Fig. 1. Bill-pay kiosks function as an automated sales-force in corporate locations, convenience stores, groceries and other retail settings, where consumers can securely and conveniently pay their bills.
Self-Serve Kiosks
Over the past decade, a growing number of utilities have partnered with multi-channel bill payment processors to improve customer satisfaction and maximize profitability through innovative self-serve bill payment kiosk solutions. These kiosks function as an automated sales-force in corporate locations, convenience stores, groceries and other retail settings, where technology savvy consumers can securely and conveniently pay their bills with cash, credit card, check/electronic ACH, money order, etc. With the introduction of kiosks, utilities alleviate long lineups and ensuing counter pressure, allowing Customer Service Representatives to focus on revenue-generating opportunities and resolving complex customer-service-related issues. Through automation, service providers reduce operational risks, and improve reconciliation and auditing.

Utilities also offer millions of unbanked and underbanked consumers -- those with limited or no access to traditional banking services -- the alternative to pay their bills with cash through bill payment kiosks. Cash paying consumers use an intuitive multilingual interface to look up their account balances, pay their bills with cash, and receive confirmation of their payments in less than two minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Payments are then posted expediently on customers' accounts. With access to last minute payments, utility customers can avoid the disconnection of essential services, late fees and save costs. Innovative self-serve bill payment solutions increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, and benefit billers and service providers with automation that reduces operational costs and drives additional revenue opportunities.

Mobile Payment Solutions
Certain bill payment processing companies have also developed mobile payment solutions that can be customized for last-minute payments of municipal water services and made available to tech-savvy consumers for free download. Consumers can now enjoy the convenience of secure bill payments on the go, anytime and anywhere. Payments can be made with Visa, MasterCard or through their bank accounts.

Mobile bill payment applications can be tailored to ethnically diverse consumer demographics with a user-friendly and multilingual interface for real-time access to personal account balances and instant payments. Utilizing mobile bill payment applications, consumers can prioritize their payment needs, hold onto their valuable cash as long as necessary, and avoid late fees as well as the disruption of services. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, consumers saved billions in late fees in 2010 and this number is expected to increase going forward.

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Figure 2: U.S. Mobile Payments Gross Dollar Volume (GDV)
The introduction of mobile payment coincides with high adoption rates of digital tools and technology, particularly among segments of the population born after the 1960s. Generation Y, comprising individuals born in the mid-1980s and later, leads the adoption curve, as this demographic is least likely to remember a time without a mobile phone (Source: Forrester Research's 2010 Annual Survey of American Technology Adoption). Regardless of minor generational differences on the adoption rate, smartphones are becoming ubiquitous, and a necessity rather than just a convenience. According to Hugues de la Vergne, principal research analyst at the technology research company Gartner, "as more consumers adopt smartphones, the market will shift from the more technically astute tech savants toward less tech-savvy comfortable conformists." (Source: mobilecommercedaily.com)

The latest technological breakthroughs in mobile payment are bound to further revolutionize our way of life, as more consumers embrace new wireless solutions to increase productivity and to meet the essential demands of today's fast paced lifestyles. In its November 2010 report, the Aite Group forecasts that U.S. mobile bill payments will reach US$214 billion in gross dollar volume in 2015, up from US$16 billion in 2010 (see Fig. 2). This growth projection is a testament to consumers' flexibility and willingness to adopt a new technology (Source: Aite Group).

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Figure 3: Millions of U.S. Households Using Expedited Payments
Javelin Strategy & Research predicts that the number of US households using expedited payments will continue to increase both under optimistic and pessimistic scenarios (see Fig. 3). This phenomenon reflects a significant change in consumer behaviors, as more households make expedited payments through various channels, including mobile, to pay for municipal water services and other utilities. With the gradual entry of mobile payments into consumers' daily lexicon, municipalities and their residents emerge as winners in the constant struggle over managing finances.

About the Author: Behshad Hastibakhsh is the Sr. Director of Public Relations at TIO Networks with over a decade of experience in the multi-channel bill payment industry.

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