Building trust with utility customers through payment optimization

Nov. 16, 2023
Modernizing the payment experience allowed the City of Hagerstown to support frictionless self-service payment options, reducing labor and minimizing complications.

The key to effectively serving any constituency is a solid foundation of trust.

“Trustworthy” is a core value for the team at the City of Hagerstown, Maryland, where they believe that demonstrating honesty and accountability are instrumental to building a position reputation. This sense of trust is especially pressing when serving a community.

Hagerstown supports a population of 44,000+ and is responsible for (among a myriad of items) billing and collecting all tax accounts, utility payments, and various other payments submitted to the city. However, these fundamental duties were frequently disrupted and complicated by an outdated billing and payment solution.

The city’s existing system simply could no longer support constituents’ expectations for making digital payments. Eventually, the poor experience at these critical touchpoints began to increase staff workloads and erode that critical foundation of trust the city had worked to build with its community.

An outdated payment platform

The City of Hagerstown’s legacy payment platform had become unable to meet customer demands; it couldn’t link customer accounts or even offer shopping cart functionality for a transparent user experience.

This not only meant customers were forced to pay bills individually but led to a barrage of calls to the city’s office. Frustrated customers were looking for customer service representatives to make manual payments for them, taking a huge toll on staff time and resources. More and more folks were abandoning the checkout process altogether, leading to increased delinquencies and account shutoffs.

These were major hurdles to building and maintaining that sense of trust between the city and its constituents.

As the community became increasingly displeased with a difficult user experience and lack of payment options they wanted to see available, it became clear that the team needed to reevaluate how they were billing and accepting its wide range of payments.

The city needed an easy-to-use solution with an engaging customer experience, one that could drive customers to self-service options and free up staff to serve constituents to the best of their ability.

The modern payment solution

After identifying billing and payments as the major inefficiencies in daily processes, Support Services got to work searching for a more modern solution that could both provide a better payment experience for customers and improve staff’s ability to process and manage those payments.

The end goal was to find a technological solution that could remove friction from the payment process and simplify enrollment in resource-saving options, to ultimately increase on-time payments, customer satisfaction, and staff availability. It was time to make payments less of a headache and cut back on time spent resolving issues.

Once the Hagerstown team implemented a solution that actually addressed the needs of customers and was designed to meet its goals, the results were immediately noticeable. The city’s optimization of the billing and payment touchpoints immediately began reducing workloads and even conserving costs.

For example, after an ACH AutoPay conversion and an incentivization program supported by the new payment platform, AutoPay enrollment has increased by 117%. This swell of adoption has helped reduce service shutoffs by 25% and has done wonders for improving customer relationships.

Another cost-saving behavior, paperless billing, has skyrocketed by 102% since implementation, significantly decreasing the tedious bill printing and mailing process and saving the organization thousands on paper products and postal expenses.

This increased focus on driving self-service throughout the revamped billing and payment journey has been effective in improving customer satisfaction and staff morale. The city’s overall 59% increase in electronic payment adoption — along with the aforementioned adoption of additional self-service routes — has significantly reduced lobby traffic and payment-related calls. Today, the team has saved 20 hours a month in payment-related workloads alone.

The new solution also allowed the city to innovate its payment experience and deliver frictionless payment options across many modern channels, such as pay-by-text, without switching from its current customer information system (CIS). The city saved a considerable number of resources by avoiding this system overhaul, thanks to the fact that the new digital payments solution offered a quick and seamless integration with the city’s existing CIS.

Customer trust for the future

Today’s utility landscape is a challenging one, especially when it comes to fostering trust with your customer base. Between security concerns, reduced resources, and higher-than-ever customer expectations, it can seem impossible to streamline processes in a realistic yet impactful way.

Hagerstown’s optimization journey has affirmed that the key to conserving time and strategically reallocating resources comes down to improvements within the billing and payment experience. Since barriers to self-service were eliminated, the city’s Support Services team has been empowered to serve customers to the best of its ability, improving everyone’s relationship with the essential services provided to the Hagerstown community.



About the Author

Beth Everhart

Beth Everhart is the support services manager at the City of Hagerstown in Maryland. As a 20-year veteran in the municipal water industry, Beth is passionate about serving customers and harnessing the power of innovation and teamwork to deliver experiences that prioritize the customer.