Recently, a customer inquired about ways to reduce walk-in payment traffic in their office. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this question because several key factors are out of your control.
Factors impacting walk-in traffic
In my experience, the biggest factor affecting walk-in traffic is the demographics of your customer base. Utilities that serve older or more low income populations tend to have more walk-in traffic than those serving younger or more affluent communities.
Another factor that seems to impact walk-in payments is the location of your office. Offices that are in the central business district of most small or mid-sized cities and towns are likely to have more walk-in traffic than if they were located farther out of town.
But there are a few things you can do that might entice your customers not to visit your office to pay each month.
Simply put, bank drafts, or ACH payments, are the easiest way to collect payments. You collect your customer’s banking information, create an ACH file, send it to the bank and your billing system creates payment transactions for each bank draft customer. If it’s not that simple with your billing system, it’s time for new software.
Do you aggressively market your bank draft program to your customers? Some utilities ask every new customer if they would like to sign up to pay by bank draft. Have you purchased a life insurance policy lately? That’s exactly how they do it.
Periodic bill inserts is another way to publicize and market your bank draft program. Be sure to include a bank draft enrollment form with your bill insert.
Online bill pay
An integrated online bill pay system not only provides your customers with a convenient way to pay, it also can answer many questions that would otherwise require a call to your office, reducing both walk-in traffic and phone calls. Does it get any better than that?
An effective online bill pay system should provide answers to the questions most frequently asked of your customer service staff:
- How much is my bill?
- When is it due?
- Did you receive my last payment?
- Can I pay online or over the phone?
- How does my usage compare to previous billing periods?
Another way to limit walk-in payments is an IVR (interactive voice response) system. Interactive voice response systems provide a way for your customers to pay by phone even when your office is closed.
After all, what have you accomplished if you offer phone credit card payments as a way to reduce walk-in payments and it takes a customer service representative longer to process a payment over the phone than it did face to face?
Any discussion of credit card payments always leads to questions about convenience fees. Should you or should you not charge a convenience fee?
In my opinion, if you are implementing online bill pay or IVR payments as an alternative to walk-in payments, then you shouldn’t charge a convenience fee. If you truly want to see a decrease in foot traffic in your office, you should do all you can to encourage your customers to pay through other means, including removing any impediment such as adding a convenience fee.
Are you ready to try something different?
If you are interested in reducing walk-in payments, or solving any other customer service issues, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how a business review could assist you with the process.
© 2013 Gary Sanders