Why + What: Making Utility Bills and Payments Transparent

by Tom Jackson, Director of MyUsage Payments

Even in the modern age, traditional values like honesty and transparency are still important to customers. 85% of customers say that they are more likely to support brands that are open, straightforward and honest with them.

If you are responsible for a utility company, there are a wide range of benefits to making utility payments transparent to your customers.

In this article, join us as we look at why customers want transparency and how you can make your bills and the payment process as open as possible to all.

Today’s customers crave transparency

Transparency and authenticity are more important to customers than ever before. Why is this? In a digital age with sponsored posts, insincere celebrity endorsements, ‘fake news’ and paid influencers, customers want to be able to communicate with genuine brands and organizations.

In fact, a survey of 1,000 US consumers found that the vast majority (86%) think it’s more important than ever before for businesses to be transparent. Consumers crave increased visibility into their spending, which we see reflected in the popularity of online-only banks with robust, personalized analytics. Venmo, one of the most popular Person-to-Person money transfer apps, lets customers add notes to money requests or payments so mutual friends can see the transaction. If consumers enjoy this level of transparency with their personal financial endeavors, they will certainly expect the same from their utility provider.

The advantages of transparency don’t just benefit the customer, but they help the organization too. In fact, 85% of Americans have said they would be willing to stand by a brand during a crisis if they feel they have transparent and honest values.

For years, utility billing has had the reputation of being complex, layered and in many cases, requiring a decoder ringer to decipher the final bill. Consumers expectations’ have changed and they will no longer quietly accept confusing bills without voicing their dissatisfaction. They want to know the where, when, and how of their bill. This is quite a change for an industry where the end-of-month bill was often a good guess at best and a bad surprise at worst for the customer.

Don’t tell your customers just what to pay, but why they are paying it

The average US household spends $2,000 on utility bills each year, and naturally they want to see where every dollar of this money goes. Breaking down your customer’s utility bill and explaining why it is the price it is will help cement your reputation as a transparent organization.

Here are some of our top tips for explaining your pricing structure to your customers in a clear and transparent way:

  • Try to remove surprises. Show customers what they can expect for their bills. The MyUsage app shows usage and utility spend-to-date on a daily basis, making it easy to track trends and correlate utility usage directly to dollars spent. Customers can manage their usage accordingly and take control of their monthly bill.
  • Use clear, jargon-free language that your customers can understand. The billing structure of utilities can quickly become complicated, but customers just need to understand their usage levels and what they will owe. The MyUsage App breaks items down simply into different utilities like Water and Electric and shows line-item Miscellaneous Charges, Taxes, and totals along with daily usage.
  • Offer hints and tips on how customers can reduce the costs of their utility bill. For example, is there anything they can do to limit their water usage or reduce the amount of electricity they use? Are there any financial programs or benefits that they can take advantage of?
  • Send timely alerts so customers can adjust behavior to avoid financial penalty. The MyUsage app sends high usage alerts, high bill alerts, upcoming bill notices, and more.
  • A picture paints a thousand words. The MyUsage App automatically creates graphs that are easily interpreted and tell customers what they need to know at a glance.
  • Offer your information in formats that are accessible to as many people as possible that can be presented in different forms to match different peoples’ physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities with WCAG 2.0 compliance.

Don’t forget to share news with your customers too. If you’re introducing a new service, opening a new office or making changes, let your customers know. Most importantly, invite them to provide their comments and feedback. Transparency is a two-way door, and listening to your customers will help them feel invested in your business.

Let your customers correlate utility usage with their activities or lifestyle

Whether electric, water or gas, your customers need to be aware that the more they use your services, the higher their utility bills will be as a result, especially if there are varying costs through-out the day or week.

This became very apparent during the pandemic lockdown of 2020. 42% of American employees found themselves working from home during the pandemic, some for the very first time in their careers. Working from home resulted in a rise in residential energy usage. In fact, it was estimated that working from home five days a week would lead to nearly an 18% increase in gas and electricity bills.

How can you be transparent or even proactive with your customers about this? By explaining how using more energy will impact their bills and how much you estimate their bills will rise by as a result.

If you genuinely want to be transparent, you can also explain to customers the support they can get to help them with extremely high bills or sudden emergencies which make paying the full balance of their bills difficult… Now more than ever, customers need flexible options for payment. Empower customers by enabling them to prepay their bills or set up automated billing each month. To help customers weather hardship, offer debt assistance so that large arrearage can be automatically paid over a period of time. In this way, you will create long lasting relationships with customers.

Similarly, helping your customers understand the effects changes in weather will have on their energy usage can help them prepare. Give them advice on how they can keep their home warm during the winter months and advise them if there are any support programs that might be available.

Increased transparency will help build your customers’ confidence in you and make them more satisfied.

As American businessman Dan Peña said: “”The best form of customer service is self-service. Constantly empower customers to get their own answers themselves.”

The benefit of letting your customer pay their bill online or by mobile

There are a wide range of benefits to letting your customer pay their bill online or by mobile. It means they can pay any time of the day or night, safe in the knowledge that they have made their payment securely. Over half of Americans paid bills online in 2018, and there was a 14% increase in digital payments made in 2020. Offering self-service through mobile payments actually improves customer satisfaction while lowering operational costs. Enabling customers to pay online reduces the need for additional staff. Most customers are comfortable paying online or via mobile and don’t want to mail a check or speak to a representative.

Be sure to provide clear information online or on your mobile app to help your customers understand their bill and how much they need to pay. For example, you can offer a comprehensive FAQ section online to answer all of their questions, or provide an automated live chat application.

In summary

Transparency is no longer something that is ‘nice to have’ — it’s essential for businesses to be able to thrive.

By making your utility billing and payments as transparent as possible for your customers, you will increase customer satisfaction and make your customers happy. By empowering your customers with more self-service options, they will be able to answer their own questions while developing a stronger trust in your company.

If we could encourage you to take three things away from this article, it would be the following:

  • Be clear — don’t confuse your customer with complicated language or hard-to-understand pricing structures
  • Be transparent — give them the why of their bill, not just the what
  • Be open — helping your customers to save money will have many advantages for your utility company in the long-term

Sources:

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

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