utility information pipeline

Consumer Expectations & Experiences

I’ve written in past years about the Fiserv Billing Household Survey, which describes consumer trends in paying bills. You can read those articles from 2013, 2015, and 2016.

I’ve been checking periodically to see if Fiserv released a similar survey for 2017, but can’t locate one. However, I did find a research paper, Expectations & Experiences | Consumer Payments, from April, 2017. You can download the paper from this link. Downloading requires your name and contact information but, from experience, I can assure you they won’t spam you!

Highlights from the paper

Here are some highlights from the research paper I think utilities would do well to pay attention to:

  • 74% of online banking users use online bill pay (page 3)
  • In the 30 days prior to the survey, the number one reason consumers used online banking was to pay bills (page 4)
  • 79% of consumers are satisfied with online bill pay (page 6)
  • Convenience is the number one reason consumers use either their bank’s online banking bill pay service or online bill pay directly from billers (page 7)
  • 76% of consumers say real-time payment delivery is at least somewhat important (page 9)

What does this mean for your utility?

Clearly, the trend is towards paying bills online, whether that means using your online bill pay site or your customer using their bank’s bill pay service.

If you don’t already offer online bill pay, I recommend you move as quickly as possible to start offering it.

If you do offer online bill pay through a third party, and it’s not fully integrated into your billing system (i.e. you have to import payments the next day), I encourage you to investigate a fully integrated online bill pay solution.

The final takeaway is, if you are still receiving paper checks when your customer pays using their bank’s bill pay service, to consider using a payment consolidator to receive those checks electronically.

Are you offering all the latest payment options?

If you’ve ever wondered if you’re offering the most popular payment options, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to discuss how a business review could benefit your utility.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

Looking back on 2017 and ahead to 2018

As 2017 winds to a close, let me be one of the first to wish you and yours a Happy New Year for 2018!

This issue marks the seventh anniversary of the Utility Information Pipeline! About seven and a half years ago I had the crazy idea of writing a newsletter to share some of my collected wisdom and experiences from my then nearly 30 years of working with utility business offices.

With encouragement from co-workers and, most importantly, my wife, the Utility Information Pipeline was launched. Here we are, seven years and 171 issues later!

When I first started, I had a ready supply of ideas to write about. Now, seven years later, I’ve used all those ideas (and more!) and have to work a little harder to find inspiration. Some weeks, a conversation with a customer or prospect or a recent listserv post will serve as the source of that week’s newsletter. Other weeks, I have to dig a little deeper. So, if you have ideas or suggestions for a future topic, please feel free to email me.

If you have co-workers or colleagues from other utilities who you feel would benefit from reading this newsletter, please take a minute and forward this to them and encourage them to subscribe.

Looking back on 2017

Listed below are the top five most frequently viewed blog posts in 2017, based on page views:

  1. How much is your late fee?
  2. What are these barcodes on my bills?
  3. Do you have a cash handling policy?
  4. What is your leak adjustment policy?
  5. Intelligent Mail barcodes – are you ready…?

The top five posts from 2017 include:

  1. Invitation to participate in 2017 Utility Fee Survey
  2. Have you considered a third party convenience fee?
  3. 5 easy ways to get more bank draft customers
  4. What should your customer service policy include?
  5. 2017 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part III

Looking ahead to 2018

The coming year will bring about the second bi-annual Utility Staffing Survey. The Utility Staffing Survey, like the Utility Fee Survey in odd number years, will become a regular feature in even numbered years.

As time permits, I continue to update my personal website – www. garysandersonline.com. I’m hoping to unveil some new tools for utilities there this year, as well.

As always, If you have ideas or suggestions for a newsletter topic, please feel free to email me.

Is this a good time to consider a business review?

The dead of winter is sometimes the best time to conduct a business review, when things tend to slow down some. If you’ve been considering a business review as an internal check-up, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to discuss a time that’s convenient for you.

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© 2017 Gary Sanders

Should you accept echecks…?

So you’ve got your online bill pay system in place and now you’re faced with what payment methods to offer. This includes which credit cards to accept and, more importantly, whether or not to accept echecks.

What is an echeck?

Echeck payments provide your customers the opportunity to enter their bank routing and account numbers and submit a payment to be electronically transferred from their bank account. This process is essentially the same as a bank draft, except the customer initiates the process rather than your office sending an ACH file to the bank.

Advantages of echecks

First, let’s examine why you might want to accept echecks. For starters, transaction fees are generally lower for echecks than credit cards. This means, if your utility absorbs the cost of processing online payments without charging a convenience fee, it costs you less to process an echeck than a credit card payment. If you charge a third party convenience fee, your customer will pay less than if they were to pay using a credit card.

Another reason to consider accepting echecks is some customers have checking accounts but no debit card so, without the echeck option, they wouldn’t be able to pay online.

Disadvantages of echecks

As was posted last week on one of the listservs I follow, echecks are subject to being returned if the customer incorrectly enters the echeck information.

This is because, unlike credit cards, there is no validation of the routing or account numbers as your customer is entering the payment. Likewise, there is also no verification of funds availability.

What this means is, unfortunately, echeck transactions are subject to honest mistakes in entering the information or, in some cases, outright abuse. I have had utilities tell me they are certain they have had customers intentionally enter erroneous echeck payments just prior to cut-off day to avoid being disconnected. This can work to the customer’s advantage if your returned check fee is less than your cut-off or reconnect fee.

The only real solution is to not accept echeck transactions and encourage your customers to use a debit card to pay from their checking account.

A reminder for North Carolina utilities

If you work for a North Carolina water utility, you should have received an invitation from the Environmental Finance Center to participate in a Utility Management Survey conducted by the EFC and North Carolina League of Municipalities.

If you, or someone at your utility, didn’t receive this invitation, please email the EFC directly at efc@sog.unc.edu and they will provide you with the specific survey link for your utility.

Should you offer additional payment options?

Do you ever wonder if your office should offer additional payment options? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could benefit your utility.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

A more efficient way to deal with email

Surprisingly, over 8% of my newsletter subscribers still use an email address where the domain name doesn’t match their website address. These subscribers use email addresses such as hometownwater@gmail.com or townofhometown@bellsouth.net.

While this certainly works for sending and receiving email and is a cost effective solution, it presents the appearance of a mom-and-pop outfit, rather than a professional utility.

Did you know you can have business email for your domain, for example you@yourutility.com, for as little as $5.00/user per month?

For $5.00/user per month, $10.00/user per month if you need to archive emails (for example, if you are a public utility subject to Freedom of Information Act requests), you can subscribe to Google’s G Suite. G Suite, formerly known as Google Apps, includes Gmail, Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Drive.

Cloud solutions

The advantages of G Suite over a single email address include the ability to coordinate calendars, collaborate on spreadsheets or documents, and access shared documents without the need for a server in your office.

With more and more utilities choosing to host their utility billing software in the cloud, why not host your email, calendar, and shared documents the same way?

In addition to eliminating the need to purchase, maintain, and upgrade internal servers, a cloud based email and calendar solution provides access to enterprise email without the need for a virtual private network (VPN).

Free, informative webinar tomorrow

Don’t forget the free remittance processing webinar I wrote about in the last Utility Information Pipeline. This webinar is hosted by Logics and our partner, ProfitStars, tomorrow, November 29, 2017 at 2:00pm eastern time.

During this webinar you will learn how ProfitStars’ RemitPlus remittance processing system can save time entering mail payments. if you haven’t already registered for the webinar, you can do so by clicking here.

A reminder for North Carolina utilities

If you work for a North Carolina water utility, you should have received an invitation from the Environmental Finance Center to participate in a Utility Management Survey conducted by the EFC and North Carolina League of Municipalities.

If you, or someone at your utility, didn’t receive this invitation, please email the EFC directly at efc@sog.unc.edu and they will provide you with the specific survey link for your utility.

Does moving to the cloud make sense?

Do you ever wonder if your office would operate more efficiently hosting your software in the cloud? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could benefit your utility.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Want to learn more about remittance processing?

If you’ve been a reader of the Utility Information Pipeline for any length of time, you know one of my recurring themes is improving efficiency in utility business offices.

One of the easiest ways for utility offices to become more efficient is to offer better options for your customers to pay, beyond the basic checks in the mail and walk-in payments.

Previously, I’ve written about the easiest way to collect payments, accepting credit cards, online bill pay systems, automating phone credit card payments, streamlining online banking checks, and alternatives to entering mail payments.

Free, informative webinar

One of the alternatives to entering mail payments manually is a remittance processing system. If you’d like to learn more about remittance processing systems, Logics is hosting a free webinar with our partner, ProfitStars, on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 2:00pm eastern time. During this webinar you will learn how ProfitStars’ RemitPlus remittance processing system can save time entering mail payments.

Utilizing a desktop scanner, RemitPlus software provides efficiencies that some customers have claimed cut their check processing time by over 75%. Several Utility Information Pipeline readers are already taking advantage of the great tools provided by RemitPlus.

Please plan to participate in this informational webinar to discover the benefits of RemitPlus, including:

  • Scanning software that allows check and coupon payments to be auto-posted (i.e. without human attention to each item)
  • Exporting of both a Check21 bank deposit file and an auto-posting file from a single pass through a scanner
  • Unlimited storage and simplified access of check images for improved customer service
  • Elimination of problematic paper checks from bank bill pay systems

To register for the webinar, please click here.

Are you processing payments as efficiently as possible?

Do you ever wonder if your office could more efficiently process payments? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could benefit your utility.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

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Gary Sanders

I am the Senior Consultant with Logics, LLC in Raleigh, North Carolina. I have over 35 years experience developing and implementing utility billing and financial software and consulting with utilities and municipalities. My bi-weekly email newsletter draws from my experience in working with over 200 utilities and local governments to offer insight into how utilities can improve operations and better serve their customers. If you have a comment or a suggestion for a future email, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or sending an email to gsanders@logicssolutions.com