Automating phone credit card payments

Now that you’re accepting credit cards (you are accepting credit cards, aren’t you…? If not, please read my Issue #4 here) have your customers caught on? If they have, my bet is that you’re now taking more credit card payments over the phone than you are in person. Am I right…?

Is there a problem with taking credit card payments by phone, you may ask? No, not necessarily, but as the volume of phone credit card payments increases, they can become a burden to your customer service staff. Consider the sequence of events of a typical telephone credit card payment transaction…

  • Customer calls to find out how much he owes. More than likely, he doesn’t have his account number
  • CSR looks up the account in the computer, tells the customer how much he owes and when the bill is due
  • Customer asks if he can pay by credit card over the phone
  • CSR answers “Yes, of course”
  • Customer locates his credit card and reads out his card number and expiration date
  • CSR scribbles credit card number and expiration date on a piece of paper
  • CSR takes the piece of paper to the credit card machine at the front counter and keys in the customer’s credit card number, expiration date and payment amount
  • CSR waits for approval and writes the approval number on the piece of paper
  • CSR returns to her desk and reads the approval number to the customer
  • Customer hangs up
  • CSR must now enter the payment into the system and shred the piece of paper with the customer’s credit card information to avoid a Red Flags issue

In the end, how much time did this entire process take…? Three minutes? Five minutes? Longer? It’s easy to see that as word spreads among your customers that they can pay by credit card over the phone, these few minutes per payment could evolve into a few hours (or more, depending on the size of your utility) on your busiest days.

Is there a better way?

Of course there is – or why else would I be writing about this topic?

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) telephone systems allow the entire phone credit card payment process to be automated, resulting in improved efficiency for your office and more flexibility and security for your customers.

With an IVR phone payment system, your customers are no longer limited to paying during normal business hours – they can call at any time of the day or night to pay. Your customers can also feel safer about paying by credit card since they no longer have to risk giving their card number to another person over the phone. With an IVR phone payment system, they enter the credit card information directly on the phone keypad or speak the numbers.

Staff time drops from several minutes per payment to several minutes per day to import and balance the payment transactions for the day.  With Logics’ PhonePay IVR payment system, phone payments are entered directly into a payment batch, further eliminating the need to import a file each day.  All that is required is to reconcile and update the previous day’s batch each morning.

I have compiled a Return on Investment (ROI) analysis that I’ve used for Logics customers to determine if investing in an IVR phone payment system makes sense.  If you are wondering if an IVR phone payment system would be cost effective for your organization, I can prepare the same ROI analysis for you. All you need to do is supply a few variables by clicking here.  I will then e-mail you the completed ROI analysis.

If you have any questions about IVR phone payment systems in general or Logics PhonePay in particular, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

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© 2011 Gary Sanders

Improving final bill collection rates

It is no secret that the key to avoiding bad debt and write-offs is getting your customers to pay their final bills. Today, let’s take a look at some steps you can take to improve your final bill collection rate.

Timeliness of Sending Final Bills

How frequently do you mail final bills?

  • If you bill once a month (or less frequently) do you wait until the next regular billing to send final bills?
  • If you bill several times a month, do you still mail final bills with the next regular billing cycle for any customers who have left?

If you answered “yes” to either question, I encourage you to consider sending final bills more frequently. I recommend mailing final bills every week, for accounts that were closed during the previous week, even if it means only printing a few bills. It is only human nature that the sooner someone receives a bill, the better likelihood that they will pay the bill. Anyone who has ever moved to a new home or apartment is well aware that there are expenses associated with the move. And you want to be sure that your final bill is paid before your former customer starts buying furniture for their new home!

Get a Forwarding Address

When a customer calls to let you know that they will be moving and requests that you terminate their service, do you ask for a forwarding address? If not, I strongly encourage you to start doing so. Only the most conscientious of customers will make an attempt to pay a bill they never received. Being sure that your customers receive their final bills is the single most effective way to insure that they will pay that final bill.

US Postal Service Endorsements

Applying the proper US Postal Service endorsement makes a big difference as to what is done with a bill if you mail it to your former customer’s old address and they have a change of address on file with the Postal Service. Below is a table of the four types of endorsements offered by the Postal Service:

Source: http://pe.usps.com/text/qsg300/Q507d.htm

As you can see, which type of endorsement you use makes a difference as to what happens if the bill can’t be delivered as addressed. I encourage you to be sure that you are using the type of endorsement that best suits your organization’s needs.

Do you send delinquent notices to final billed accounts?

If you don’t send delinquent notices to final billed accounts, I recommend that you start. In the confusion of moving and getting settled in a new home, bills can be misplaced. Often, a delinquent notice is all a customer needs to remind them that they haven’t paid their final bill.

If you have questions about your final bill procedures, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

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© 2011 Gary Sanders

Enterprise e-mail – now available to organizations of any size

This issue is primarily targeted at utilities that do not use organization-wide e-mail addresses and calendar, but even if your utility does use an enterprise e-mail system, don’t stop reading just yet – you might learn how you can save money!

I have noticed that a number of our customers, and even some of the Rural Water Associations that I work with, do not use organization-wide e-mail addresses. Instead they use personal e-mail addresses from one of the popular free e-mail services or they use their internet provider’s e-mail service. For example, rather than using an e-mail address of myname@utilityname.org, these customers use myname@freeemail.com or utilityname@internetprovider.com.

Is there a problem with this practice?

Not really, but it does present a face to the public that your utility is small and not very progressive – the same message that not having a website conveys. You do have a website, don’t you…? (If not, take a look at my very first issue here.) Would you like your customers to view your utility as being more in touch with the times? Of course – who wouldn’t?

So let’s take a look at why this is… Most likely, it’s because the utility does not want to make the investment to support an enterprise e-mail system. Traditionally, this has meant purchasing and implementing the most widely used server-based e-mail software. And, if you have remote users, this requires installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) so those users can access the e-mail server. Resistance to implementing an in-house e-mail server could be due to any of the following reasons:

  • Cost of purchasing the software
  • Inadequate server infrastructure
  • Lack of technical support

Upon closer scrutiny, aren’t all of these reasons cost-based? If you have to upgrade a server to support enterprise e-mail, there is a cost associated with that. Hiring outside technical expertise costs money as well.

Is there another option?

Of course there is! Google Apps from Google provides the following applications for just $50 per user per year:

  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Docs
  • Google Groups
  • Google Sites

So if your utility has 10 employees who need e-mail and calendar access, the cost is $500 per year plus the registration fee for your domain name. Google Apps is web-based, so you can access your e-mail, calendar and documents from anywhere.

In addition, if your organization is required by public records laws to maintain an archive of all e-mails, Google Apps with Postini meets that requirement.

At Logics, we switched from an internal server based e-mail system to using Google Apps at the end of August last year. You may have noticed that we changed from using e-mail addresses with logics-software.com domain name to logicssolutions.com. The reason for this was our transition to using Google Apps. The migration to Google Apps was seamless and, I must admit, very easy (I don’t necessarily adapt to change any better than anyone else, even though helping folks change is my business). I can now access my e-mail and calendar any time I have internet access without having to connect to our office VPN. Plus, I love the easy integration with my Android phone!

If you have questions about Google Apps or would like assistance making the case to convince your board to implement an enterprise e-mail system, give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

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© 2011 Gary Sanders