Mobile-First Payment Powers CX in Utilities
Imagine a light bulb going on above someone’s head. It’s a classic image denoting a good idea, and many utilities are experiencing this exact moment now that the digital transformation of billing and payments is coming to what is arguably the original connected ecosystem – the power grid.
Surveying more than 100 billing and payment executives at utility companies sending more than 30,000 bills per month, PYMNTS’s study “The Digital Payments Edge: How Utility Companies Can Succeed In The Digital Payments Revolution”, a ACI Worldwide collaboration, revealed that 93% of these experts consider digitization to be their best bet for revenue growth over the next five years.
How this plays out depends on some key variables, depending on Andre SajeskiVice President of Solutions Consulting at ACI in the world. Noting that his own utility company (which will remain anonymous) recently “updated” its mobile app – only to remove facial recognition login – he said there was a lot of confusion about the experience of consumers in paying utility bills.
“Especially with the younger generations, what is their mobile strategy? How do they leverage this to communicate with their customers, not just from a payments perspective, but in general? ” he said. “Do they notify them of power outages or meter readings or things of that nature? From a payments perspective, that’s huge, but how do they make it easy? »
Along the same lines, important questions for utilities to ask themselves include: “Am I still just doing [automated clearinghouse] and the map? Do I use alternative payment methods like PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay?Sajeski said.
Other factors to consider, he added, include whether utilities should leverage digital self-service options in addition to their traditional offerings to help customers who have fallen behind in their payments due to the pandemic and the pressure of inflation on household budgets. Since they effectively have a captive customer base—few to no markets have competing gas and electric options—utilities need to focus on the captive customer experience in terms of efficiency and their net promoter scores .
“It comes down to that customer-centric mindset. We know that one of the things that drives utilities is their rankings from a customer satisfaction perspective,” he said. “Digitization is part of it.”
The research backs it up. According to “The Digital Payments Edge,” 97% of utility billing and payment managers said digitized billing and payments would improve customer satisfaction.
Get the study: The Digital Payments Advantage: How Utilities Can Succeed in the Digital Payments Revolution
Powering a better experience
Among other key findings, some utilities report a technology gap internally, where legacy technology stacks and a shortage of technical staff can slow progress.
Mid-market providers need digital support far more than their counterparts serving large metros and entire regions, Sajeski said, and they need to decide which digital path to take.
“When you look lower at the middle market folks who would need more tech teams if they were going to try and do it themselves, what they have to do is look outside. They must turn to an ACI or to their ERP [enterprise resource planning vendors]. We work closely with ERPs to have integrated solutions.
Integration takes many forms. Sajeski said some utilities come to ACI for its application programming interfaces (APIs), which are known to be robust and easy to add to stacks.
For consumers, he said, “they want to know that you have a full digital offering, especially in something like utilities, where people might pay a little more attention. My rates, my bill increased in the last month. Why? What are some ideas you can offer so they see how [their utility use] compare to the same time last year? »
The result is new forms of self-service that reduce call center costs and increase customer satisfaction – a double positive impact that may be unexpected. And it starts with a mobile-first strategy that leverages smart integrations with payment methods customers already use.
“People don’t always want to download an app,” he said. “You can do a lot of communication with the consumer through Apple Pay or Apple Wallet or Google Pay where you can give them the latest information on their bill, you can send them outage notifications, you can give them payment options, and they didn’t need to download anything. It’s native.
See also: Utilities Amplify Cash Earnings with Digitized Bill Payments
BNPL for public services?
In utilities as elsewhere, the appropriate use of data leads to decisions that save money and make money.
Platforms like ACI take customer data, guess new usage patterns like home and office work, for example, and identify the latest utility trends, which has far-reaching implications.
“Once we have that data, we can present it the way they want and deliver that full experience to the customer. We’re not going to do things like help turn them on and off, but we can offer a lot of things to provide that digital experience for consumers. »
From the perspective of utility efficiency and associated cost savings, Sajeski said the right self-service solution could mean a 20% reduction in call center staff.
Some customers have fallen behind on their utility bills during the pandemic, and he said now is the optimal time for utilities to consider installment payments more as a self-service digital experience than traditional payment agreements.
ACI developed a tool called the Virtual Collection Agent during the 2008 credit crisis, which Sajeski says could be put to good use in collecting overdue balances in a way that appeals to customers.
Noting that human debt collectors are trained to interact in helpful ways, he said, “they don’t call with just one option. They have a conversation with the client to try to understand that client’s needs and give them a series of options to help them get back on track. Our Virtual Collection Agent does the exact same thing. »
“What the utility doesn’t want to do is end up having to charge for all of that because they’ve never been able to get it back,” he said, and that’s where the digital pays off as a cash-flow facilitator and driver of customer satisfaction.
See also: 55% of utility executives say digitalization is key to industry growth