One and Two:
First and foremost, utilities should realize that they can deal with convenience fees in a positive way. They should consider either a "No Fee to Biller" model using pre-set flat convenience fees collected by their processor to retain 100% of billable amounts. Second, account verification is a simple procedure that will enable them to verify the accuracy of each customer's account information and likeliness of successful pay even before setting up recurring payment plans, and can consequently avoid costly and time consuming setups or repeated returned payments.
Three and Four: New Payments Methods
Utilities should also consider the option of web payment forms & IVR, which can provide a branded web payment form or Interactive Voice Response phone line for customers and debtors to self-pay, which can streamline the process of collecting on outstanding balances while offering 24x7 access.
And there is also the option to use ACH payments -- by accepting payments via ACH, Utilities can reduce processing fees while increasing customer satisfaction through providing more efficient cash management capabilities compared to traditional paper payments.
Five and Six: And Consider the Under Banked
Cash payments offer an option for your under banked customers to make payments and settle debts through you accepting electronic cash payments -- plus this way, you can eliminate the risk of managing cash at your locations.
Utilities can also consider the option of limiting payment card acceptance to validated debit cards only, effective for portfolios where access to credit is minimal or restricted.
Seven, Eight and Nine: Look to Advanced Technologies
Many utilities have not yet looked into e-billing (EBPP) -- but they can significantly reduce paper and postage costs by introducing e-billing and payment processing so that customers can see their bills and pay online while also reducing your Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) and operational costs.
There is also the possibility to exchange electronic images of checks, meaning faster access to check payments and greater efficiency when compared to physically transporting paper checks. Check 21 enables non-standard paper checks such as business checks to be converted to electronic images for processing.
Virtual agents offer another option to make payment even more convenient, by letting computer-based algorithms handle payment options on qualifying account balances, so that businesses can leave more agents and customer service representatives free for other tasks.
Ten: Text and Eleven: Text again
Add to this the development of text payments and you can provide a convenient option for busy mobile-savvy people; they can receive bill reminders and authorize payment by text message. Customers like this emerging technology. And you can also use text notifications to bill and communicate with customers and debtors via SMS text for a quick, easy to set up, and low cost service outage notices or as a past due payment reminder service.
And Finally - Take a Step Ahead of the Game with Twelve: Purls
The next step for utilities using e-billing is to use PURLs, one-time-use personalized URLs which encourage electronic payments from paper statements and invoices, so customers can quickly pay online while eliminating the need to create a profile or log into a public online payment portal.
One step at a time
Of course, we're not suggesting that utilities need to implement all of these technologies all in one go -- but by implementing at least one of these options, utilities could see a significant increase in their collections from customers, and ultimately, an increase in their bottom line.