Evolving with the times — Make it easier for your customers to pay you!

by Tom Jackson, Director of MyUsage Payments

The average US household spends $2,000 on its utility bills each year. That’s a lot of money!

When it’s time to issue your monthly bill, you want to make sure that it is as quick and convenient for people to pay as possible. If it isn’t, you may see delays in payment as well as negative feedback from your customers.

Gone are the days where a monthly bill was your only and best way to engage with your customers. Over the last decade, companies like Amazon, Google, and Starbucks have completely changed the way customers pay for goods and more importantly, completely changed expectations of how customers engage with (and pay) their utilities as part of the new digital world. Utilities are no longer being compared to the utility next door — in the digital age, utilities are being compared to the best engagement and service companies in the world across industries. You must make it easy for your customers to pay you, or you will certainly hear about it…

Join us as we look at some of the ways customers can pay their bills in 2021; and how you can make it easy for customers to pay you for the utility services you provide.

We’ve identified four key factors as to why payments have evolved so much over the past few years.

1. A proliferation of online payments

More and more customers are paying online than ever before. It’s easy to do and can be done on the go, whether customers are in the office, the gym, or waiting in line at the store!

Over half of people paid their bills online in 2018, with customers opting to pay their most significant bills over the internet.

Younger generations are also more likely to make payments online and through mobile. According to ACI research, 28% of Generation Zers and 27% of Millennials pay their bills using their smartphones.

2. Lifestyle mobility and mobile payments

Consumers expect transactions to be fast and convenient, no matter where they’re shopping. They expect in-person payments to be as simple as paying online, and many companies across all industries are achieving this by offering mobile payments. In fact, US mobile wallet volume is expected to surge from an estimated $662.3 billion in 2019 to an estimated $1.33 trillion in 2023.

3. Organizations relying more on digital

Modern companies are driving technology and digital transformation all of the time. Customers can now order McDonald’s and Starbucks using an app on their phone, and schedule deliveries on Amazon.

In fact, companies that have adopted digital transformation are 26% more profitable than their peers that have not.

4. The influence of the pandemic

COVID-19 has played a massive role in the acceleration of digital technology. Due to people being confined to their homes, there has been a decline in the use of cash and a rapid increase in online and contactless payments.

Compared to 2019, there was a 14% increase in the number of digital payments made in 2020 — and this figure is set to grow even more in 2021!

Whether online or offline, you need to make the payment process simple, especially if your customers have to pay their bills on a regular basis.

If your customers are only touching base with you once a month, you want to make their interaction with you the best possible experience.

Here are some of the ways your utility company can encourage prompt payment.

1. Give customers different access points

Like fingerprints and snowflakes, each one of your customers is unique. They like and dislike different things, use energy in different ways, and will have different preferences when it comes to paying their bills.

Offering various ways to pay will keep your customers happy, as well as reduce the time it takes for you to receive payment.

What access points can you offer?

  • Online: Offering an online payments portal on your website is an easy and effective way to encourage payment. We’ll go into a little bit more detail about how you can optimize your portal for usability later in this article.
  • Mobile app: More and more companies are turning to mobile apps to generate payments. This is a popular choice with Millennials, with 70% using their smartphones to pay for goods and services. The bonus is that you can set up phone notifications when a bill is due.
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR): An automated telephone system will enable your customers to pay their bills over the phone, without you having to pay for staff to resource the line. This is an ideal option for older customers who aren’t experienced at using digital technology.
  • Over the counter: Don’t forget your customers that aren’t online! Make sure you offer alternatives like the option to pay at their local store… or even by sending payment through the post!

2. Provide a variety of payment methods

When you’re setting up your online payment system you may be tempted to just offer one payment method, for simplicity’s sake. However, did you know that over half of payees expect more than one method of payment to be available to them?

Some people prefer to pay their bills by debit card, with some choosing to pay by credit card. Other customers have their preferred payment platforms. By offering a choice, you will increase customer satisfaction, as well as the likelihood of them paying their bills on time.

Which payment methods are the best ones to provide? It depends. The best thing to do is to carry out market research into your target audience and see which payment methods they prefer to use. Are they more likely to use Visa, Mastercard or American Express? Or would they prefer to use an online payment gateway like Stripe or PayPal or utilize an eCheck from their banking account?

You’ll also need to look into how much it will cost you to implement specific payment methods on your site. What fees will you be charged per transaction, and how will you recoup any costs?

3. Make it personal

Making your customer feel that you are speaking directly to them as an individual, rather than just a reference number, will increase the likelihood of prompt payment. 84% of customers want a personalized experience when liaising with businesses.

The easiest way to do this is to refer to customers by name through the payment process, but personalization can expand much further than this. Offer them services that are relevant to their needs and utilize data to anticipate their next move.

4. Pay attention to your user experience (UX)

If you want to encourage your customers to pay online or through mobile, you need to make your payment system a pleasure to use.

If people don’t like your payment system, they will elect to pay offline, which can result in more administration for your utility company. Even worse, they may refuse to pay, or complain about you to friends and family.

Whether you have a web development team inhouse or use a third-party company to look after your website, here are some of the ways you can improve the usability of your payment system:

  • Signpost your payment portal as clearly as possible. Have a clear link on your website’s home page and also include a link in any correspondence you send to your customer (more information about this later).
  • Let customers pay without needing to create or sign in to an account. 14% of customers will abandon the payment process if there is no guest checkout option.
  • Don’t ask for information you don’t need. Several studies have shown that customers are more likely to convert when shorter forms are used. So unless you are going to send your customer a birthday card, don’t ask for their date of birth!
  • If a customer makes an error when paying, provide a clear error message and explain what they need to do to correct the mistake
  • Provide a clear call to action. Make the payment button clear and easy to see. You may also want to ghost the payment button out once your customer clicks on it, to prevent them from clicking on it (and potentially paying) multiple times
  • Give customers the option to save their card payment details. If you offer this, you will need to ensure that their card details will be stored and encrypted securely
  • Make sure your organization’s branding applies to your payment page. You want it to be an extension of your website, using the same logos, imagery, and colors. This will help build customer trust and confidence in your payments system
  • Provide information about the security measures you have in place and the credentials you have as an organization. This will reassure your customers that you are doing all you can to keep their data safe and secure
  • Test your payment system thoroughly! Run test payments using different browsers and operating systems. Make sure that your system not only accepts payment but also looks appealing across all the various technologies your customers may use

5. Keep your customers up to date

There is a wide range of benefits to keeping your customers in the loop. Not only is it a great way to build trust and encourage transparency, but regular communication makes it easier to relay critical changes, such as price increases.

Reach out to your customers promptly to let them know when payment is due and what they owe. Provide clear details about the different ways they can pay their bill and most importantly — thank them when they have paid their bill.

Whether you get in touch by email, SMS, or even by mail — factor thorough and speedy communication into your payments strategy.

Payments should be an experience, something that your customers are happy to do and don’t see as a necessary chore.

Top brands across all industries are shaping consumer expectations for a simple, straightforward, and enjoyable experience. Many utilities have lagged behind thus far, but improving your payments processes now will become a critical competitive differentiator. For companies that wait too long, customer satisfaction will be at risk.

The way we make payments (both online and offline) is changing all the time. For example, financial brands and governments are looking to create their own cryptocurrencies, with digital currencies like Bitcoin now being accepted by many major US brands.

It definitely pays to do your research and see how you can factor new technologies into your payment systems. Keep reading our blog to find out more about the latest developments.

Whatever you do, you need to provide a wide range of payment options, keep it simple, personal and ensure that your customers are always kept in the loop.

Sources:

North America’s leading utility prepay and payment service company.

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