Do you offer third party notification…?

Two issues ago, I wrote about offering more convenient due dates for senior citizens. Another customer friendly service you might consider offering is third party notification. Third party notification allows someone other than the customer (and the utility, thus the term “third party”) to be notified of bills and delinquencies.

Duplicate copies of bills and delinquent notices

If your billing software allows you to do so, you can mail a duplicate copy of the bill to a third party, such as a child or caretaker of an elderly customer. Many utilities, in states where the landlord is ultimately responsible for payment of the bill, mail a duplicate copy of the bill to the landlord.

Of course, this means you will incur additional costs in the form of postage and forms cost, unless you offer paperless billing as a third party option.

Call list before cut-off for non-payment

Another, more common, option for third party notification is to call the third party as you are reviewing the cut-off list.

If your billing software offers a third party notification call list, you can call from that. But even if it doesn’t, it should be easy enough to enter a comment on the account with the third party name and phone number. If customer comments print on your cut-off list, you can use this to call from.

Even if you can’t print customer comments with your cut-off list, it should be easy enough to cross-reference your cut-off list with a separate third party call list.

Avoid a public relations nightmare

Nobody wants to work for the utility that makes it on the 6:00 news for turning utilities off for a homebound senior citizen. Offering third party notification is one way to be sure you don’t work for that utility.

If you have questions about third party notification or other customer friendly initiatives, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

© 2012 Gary Sanders

Are you offering paperless billing…?

Are your customers asking if they can receive their bill electronically rather than receiving a paper bill in the mail?  Paperless billing (or e-billing) allows a utility to present its customers with bills in electronic from rather than mailing a traditional paper bill.

Cost savings

The most obvious reason to offer paperless billing is cost savings. The cost to mail a bill includes postage, the bill itself (postcard or full page), envelope for full page bills, any additional inserts (return envelope and bill stuffers), consumables (toner or printer ribbons) and labor to print and prepare bills for mailing.

If you outsource the printing of your bills, these costs are passed on to you from your outsource printer. If you print bills in-house, some of these costs are direct costs (postage, forms, consumables and envelopes). The rest are indirect costs (salary and benefits for the time involved in preparing bills to be mailed).

How much can we save?

For full page bills, the very best automation compatible presort discount is the 5-digit presort rate of $.35. This rate is only available if you mail your bills using CASS certification and all of your bills are mailed to a presorted five digit zip code. Postage rates increase for less specific delivery areas (3-digit zip prefix, AADC, etc). These rates compare to the full first class postage rate of $.45 if you don’t presort. For postcards, the 5-digit presort rate is $.229 and the full first class postage rate is $.32.

For purposes of illustration, let’s use $.50/bill for the total cost of mailing a full page bill. This includes postage, forms, supplies and labor. If you bill monthly, for every customer that elects to stop receiving a paper bill, you will save $6.00 per year!

Customer convenience

For many of your customers, the convenience of being able to receive their bill electronically is key. I can attest to this from personal experience. As someone who travels frequently for work, I have been receiving as many bills as I can electronically for several years. I also pay all of my bills using my bank’s online banking bill pay option. This means I can pay all of my bills while I’m traveling.

Customer adoption rates for e-billing will vary from utility to utility depending on the demographic of your customer base. If your customers make use of online bill pay or pay using IVR, chances are they would also enjoy the convenience of receiving their bill electronically.

Bill presentment options

With e-billing, utilities either attach an image of the bill to an e-mail or send an e-mail letting the customer know their bill is available to be viewed online. Each option has advantages and disadvantages.

The advantage of attaching the bill to an e-mail is the customer doesn’t have to login to a website to view their bill. The disadvantage is producing and attaching a PDF document to an e-mail and the lack of security in attaching a bill to an e-mail.

The advantage of viewing the bill online is requiring your customer to login, so the information is more secure. You can also post more than just the most recent bill online, giving your customers the added convenience of seeing previous month’s bills as well. While the customer is logged in to your website to view their bill, they should also be able to pay it without having to login to another site.

How do we get started?

The first step is to contact your software vendor to see if they offer a paperless billing solution. Once you have that in place, getting your customers to sign up is the next step.

The key to higher adoption rates is to target specific customer groups that would be most likely to take advantage of e-billing.  This includes those customers who pay using their bank’s online banking bill pay option, and those who use your online bill pay or IVR payment options. These customers have demonstrated that they are not intimidated by technology and are most likely to embrace paperless billing.

Another way to higher adoption rates is to ask! Have your customer service staff ask every new customer applying for service if they would prefer to receive an e-bill, just like they ask if new customers want to sign up for bank drafts. If you don’t ask every new customer if they want to sign up for bank drafts, you should! It’s the easiest way to collect payments.

If you have questions about paperless billing options, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

© 2012 Gary Sanders

Is your due date inconvenient for senior citizens?

A few issues back I wrote about a utility’s “corporate culture” and how I believe it is possible to have sound business policies and still be customer friendly. Let’s look at another way you can be customer friendly…

Do you get complaints from senior citizens and customers on fixed incomes that your due date causes them to pay late and incur penalties each month? Have you considered offering them a more convenient due date? This issue examines how to do that.

It’s easy with cycle billing

If you bill more than one time per month, commonly called cycle billing, all this may require is allowing your customers to choose to be billed in another cycle. Doing so allows them to select a cycle with a due date that falls after they receive their monthly check. You would continue to read these accounts with their existing meter reading route, waiting to bill them a week or two later than usual.

How do we do this if we only bill once a month?

If you only bill once per month, offering an alternative due date would require you to create another billing cycle. You would then move all of your customers who request a later due date to this cycle, giving them additional time until their bill is due.

Let’s look at a possible scenario with a billing date is the 15th of the month and the due date is the last day of the month. If you have customers who receive their monthly check on the 5th of the month, they will be late paying their bill each month. To make it more convenient for these customers, all you would need to do is move them to a different billing cycle with a due date of the 10th of the month. This will enable these customers to pay their bill after receiving their monthly check without being late each month.

Meter reading routes separate from billing cycles

Both scenarios require your billing software to distinguish meter reading routes independent of billing cycles. If you’re not sure how to do this, give your software vendor a call. If your billing software can’t do this, it might be time to consider new software.

If you would like assistance developing a flexible due date policy, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

© 2012 Gary Sanders