Despite the fact that electronic bills, or e-bills, have been around for more than a decade, there is still a lack of consumer awareness about them. Many consumers lack insight into the availability of e-bills, how they work, and their benefits. This general lack of knowledge is a factor in lower than hoped e-bill adoption rates -- which hover around 10 percent for many utility companies1.
Integrys Energy Group is among the companies seeking to overcome this awareness challenge and grow e-bill adoption significantly over the coming years. The holding company, which serves nearly two million customers through six Midwestern subsidiaries, has launched a set of initiatives intended to propel e-bill use among their customers past the 20 percent mark by end of 2012. This would result in a total of more than 350,000 e-bill users. Timing for these initiatives appears to be good, as a survey from billing and payment technology provider Fiserv indicates that consumers are becoming more receptive to e-bills. According to the 2011 survey, interest in receiving e-bills is at 26 percent among consumers who pay bills online at financial institution websites. Another 50 percent are still on the fence as to whether or not they would consider using the e-bill option2.
For Integrys, driving more e-bills is part of a strategic goal to increase customer satisfaction and promote Web self-service activities, as well as manage costs by reducing operating and bill processing expenses. The company is likely to realize other business benefits as well, as studies have shown e-bill users are 35 percent more likely to pay their bills on time3.
Integrys has significantly increased e-bill use among customers over the last few years and is on target to exceed its ambitious 2012 goal. The company's proactive initiatives -- innovative user interfaces and service enhancements, customer care associate campaigns and comprehensive marketing campaigns -- serve as a model for how utilities can grow electronic billing to achieve their business objectives.
Innovative User Interface and Service Enhancements
American consumers have indicated that making a payment or viewing a bill are the primary reasons they visit the websites of companies from which they receive services4, making the website an ideal place to aggressively promote e-bills.
Integrys prominently features billing and payment options on the website home pages, and has developed comprehensive "billing and payment" landing pages that strategically highlight high-value, low-cost billing and payment options such as e-bills. By properly balancing billing and payment information with promotions, products, tips and other content on its website, Integrys can realize maximum adoption rates, minimal abandonment's and a more satisfactory customer Web experience.
To further maximize adoption, Integrys provides e-bill education and information within the billing and payment sections of their websites so that consumers understand the process of turning off their paper statements. Integrys leverages a cost-effective outsourcing technology, which allows them to customize in-product messaging with their own terminology and language. This innovative approach can improve the user experience, by enabling better understanding of how the service works.
In addition to enhancing the user experience on their own websites, Integrys has expanded their e-bill delivery options to include financial institutions, making e-bills available to more customers. Integrys customers can view their bills online at an extensive network of 3,000 local and national financial institutions. By enabling both biller direct and financial institution e-bill delivery, Integrys allows the customer to choose how they wish to view, manage and pay their bills, increasing customer satisfaction. Studies have shown that customers who receive e-bills have an overall customer satisfaction score that is significantly higher than the average paper bill customer. And 37 percent of consumers who receive e-bills at financial institution websites say that e-bills have improved their relationship with the company from which they receive the bill.5
Customer Care Associate Campaigns
In addition to marketing e-bills on their website home pages and within the billing and payment section of their sites, Integrys actively targets customers contacting the call center. The company's customer care associates receive extensive, training on Integrys's electronic billing and payment options, to help drive enthusiasm and support. As a result, they engage customers frequently and consistently on the phone about the benefits of e-bills. They also gather email addresses from customers who are interested in receiving additional information, so those customers can be sent a follow-up email with simple steps for signing up for e-bill. On average, response rates to those emails have been an impressive 36 percent. Once collected, these email addresses can also be used in subsequent e-bill marketing campaigns, specifically targeting those who expressed interest in e-bill in the past but haven't enrolled yet.
A major factor in the success of the call center campaigns, and the overall efforts of Integrys to increase e-bill use, is that the efforts are driven by strong executive-level support, with senior management directly communicating their importance. Additionally, Integrys employees are included in celebration of milestone goals achieved throughout the year because of the important role they play in driving adoption.
Comprehensive Marketing Campaigns
Another key component of Integrys's efforts to drive e-bill adoption is comprehensive marketing campaigns. Integrys understands the importance of ongoing, multi-channel marketing communications to educate their 1.8 million customers about the benefits of receiving and paying their bills online, as targeted marketing campaigns directly impact e-bill adoption. The company leverages a broad range of channels in a coordinated approach, including:
- Web advertising
- Targeted email campaigns
- Direct mail campaigns
- Bill inserts
- Sweepstakes campaigns
Integrys's most successful campaigns include:
Targeting Those Most Likely to Adopt E-Billing: Leveraging the e-mail addresses that the customer care associates from two of the Integrys subsidiaries began collecting in 2010, a follow-up e-mail campaign targeted those customers who had not yet signed up for e-bills. As of November 2010, response rates for Wisconsin Public Service were 19 percent and Upper Peninsula Power Company was 23 percent. Additionally, through its partnership with Fiserv to deliver e-bills to financial institution websites, Integrys is able to target marketing messages to customers that make payments electronically using online banking, but continue to receive paper bills in the mail. Via direct mail and email campaigns, Integrys educates their customers who are already using the online channel for payments about the additional benefits e-bills can provide. Response rates from these marketing tactics have been as high as 10 percent.
Incentives for going Paperless: Integrys conducted its first incentive sweepstakes campaign, the Super Paper Saver Sweepstakes, near the end of 2010, encouraging customers to sign up for paperless billing by offering a grand prize of a $250 gift card. Results were a 28 percent increase over normal growth. Because of these results, Integrys launched a similar campaign in September 2011.
Integrys Maximizes Customer Billing Interactions, While Driving E-Bill Adoption
E-bills deliver a variety of benefits for billers and their customers alike. Recognizing this, Integrys has provided multiple, convenient ways for customers to receive and pay their bills online, and has complemented those services with a multi-pronged set of initiatives to drive adoption and use.
By leveraging a variety of best practices -- innovative user interface and service enhancements, customer care associate campaigns and comprehensive marketing campaigns -- Integrys is maximizing its ability to successfully reach its e-billing goals for 2012 and beyond.
1."Paperless Billing and Payment Adoption Rates, 2011" Chartwell, 2011
2.2011 Billing Household Survey: Consumer Survey of Offline and Online Billing and Pyament Practices," Fiserve Consumer Insights, 2011
3."Research Study on the Impact of Bill Presentment and Payment on Retention and Profitability for Qwest Communications," Aspen Marketing Services, 2009
4.2011 Billing Household Survey: Consumer Survey of Offline and Online Billing and Pyament Practices," Fiserve Consumer Insights, 2011
5. 2011 Billing Household Survey: Consumer Survey of Offline and Online Billing and Pyament Practices," Fiserve Consumer Insights, 2011