Over 70% of Americans use e-mail regularly, yet an average of only 6% of utility consumers are viewing and paying their bills online. In fact, in almost all industries and market verticals, adoption to online EBPP varies from less than 2% to a maximum of 15% of customers.

The challenge is to identify how to attain a significant number of customers using electronic means to receive and pay their bills. And the answer is simple – stop expecting customers to come to you and start delivering their bills to them.

WHY ARE CURRENT ONLINE EBPP SOLUTIONS UNSUCCESSFUL?

The key here is to understand what it takes to get a customer to use an Internet web site-based EBPP solution. The biggest difficulty is getting sufficient customers to go to the biller’s web site and sign up for the service. If you ask customers to do anything, you can rest assured that the majority of them will not respond.

But there are many more challenges to overcome:

  • An online EBPP solution presumes that a customer has reasonable Internet speed and is relatively web savvy. Unfortunately, according to recent Nielson Netratings, just on 53% of Americans are still dialling up to the Internet at speeds of less than 56 Kbps. It is almost impossible to register on and navigate a secure billing web site at these speeds.
  • The online solution requires a customer to register, choose a user name and password, and then remember it.
  • The online bill seldom looks anything like the paper one that the customer is familiar with.
  • Many customers are wary of identity theft and phishing. This is creating further barriers to adoption.
  • If every biller that a customer deals with has his own EBPP site, the customer has to register with each one, remember multiple usernames and passwords, and visit each one separately to view and pay his bills.
  • There is limited aggregation of bills.

For EBPP to be a success, the customer has to be offered a totally convenient and effortless aggregation of all his bills in a single place. (After all, this used to be his postbox at the end of his driveway.)

SECURE E-MAIL DELIVERY OF BILLS AND STATEMENTS

In Europe, Africa and Australasia, billers and banks are able to deliver a bill, statement or any other document via secure e-mail. This has many advantages, the first and foremost being the fact that the bill is delivered to the customer, who does not have to do anything to receive it.

Adoption of e-mail EBPP is much higher than online EBPP, for the following reasons:

  • E-mail has significantly higher usage than browsing the Internet.
  • There is no web site to visit.
  • There is no registration form to complete.
  • It looks exactly like the paper bill. (This familiarity with the biller’s look-and-feel drives customer acceptance and adoption.)
  • There is no username and password to remember.
  • There is no fast Internet access required.
  • There is no need to be connected to the Internet to view the bill.
  • All bills arrive into the inbox (just like the postbox at the bottom of your driveway). The customer is the only possible aggregator of his bills.
  • As customers already have the bill electronically, there is no need to download it.
  • There are quick ‘from within the e-mail’ payment options.

There are also benefits for billers:

  • E-mail EBPP is significantly more cost-effective than online EBPP.
  • There is no upfront software sale and therefore no ROI to prove; the biller only pays for the bills that he sends electronically.
  • Deployment is rapid and highly configurable.
  • The billing process can be fully automated.
  • High adoption rates lead to massive time, paper and postage savings.
  • Billing cycles (DSO) are drastically reduced.
  • Bill delivery is instant.
  • There are many proven international case studies to learn from.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The process is efficient and simple. First the biller collects his customers’ e-mail addresses. (This occurs offline through all real-world touch points with the customer.) An introductory e-mail is sent, and the biller then sends the next bill in a secure e-mail.

The customer decrypts the bill using an existing ‘shared secret’. (For example, the last eight digits of the card number and last four digits of his social security number, in the case of a credit card statement). He then has the bill open on his local machine, and he can save it to his local machine (it remains encrypted) or print it. He can pay the bill from within the e-mail, without navigating to any web site, by paper cheque, phone or any other payment option that the biller offers. It’s all about customer choice. After two to three months the biller stops sending the paper bill, but gives the customer the option to ask for the paper bill service to be resumed if that is his preference.

A biller can also link the e-mail bill to his web site for additional customer self-service. The e-mail bill has multiple marketing opportunities (which can be 100% personalised) to replace the traditional ‘bill stuffer’.

Feedback from the pilot group

A customer survey was run as part of the pilot project, in order to establish the preferences of the pilot group. Here are some examples of actual customer feedback:

"Excellent idea!"

"Not receiving a paper statement is the best way to do things. People do not want to have a paper statement."

"It is more convenient and I am less likely to lose the bill and not pay on time."

"Your pay service was excellent. Very convenient and easy to navigate!"

"I hate all the paper bills I get. I would much rather get the e-mail bill."

"This program is a great way to save time and paper."

"Loved the e-mail bill. It was quick and easy."

"Very practical, user-friendly, good idea. Being in Massachusetts or in Florida doesn't matter any more – my electric bill is always at my fingertips."

"E-mail bill worked for me. I work nights and paying by e-mail bill was great. Instead of taking my lunch hour to run to the post office I can just send my payment through the e-mail bill paying system."

COMPLEMENTING E-MAIL EBPP WITH AN ONLINE SOLUTION

Online and e-mail EBPP need to work hand in hand as complementary solutions to offer customers the best of all worlds. By combining the two offerings, billers can take maximum advantage of the available technologies to offer customers a wide choice on how they would prefer to interact with the biller.

The two offerings provide both overlapping and unique benefits, sometimes to different customer segments. The most comprehensive Internet bill offering is the process that makes use of a combination of the two methods. Historically, the emphasis has been on bill presentment web sites. With the changing profile of online users, it is apparent that even those organisations with large bill presentment infrastructures need to complement this process with a secure e-mail offering.

This enables billers to deliver personalised electronic documentation via e-mail, and in addition allows payment processing directly from the document itself. This removes the need for the customer to register, shortening payment cycles and further enhancing the customer self-service functionality.

DRIVING ADOPTION

There are several advantages to a corporation ‘pushing’ sensitive information to a customer rather than having customers pull the information, but driving customer adoption requires focused attention from the billers’ entire organisation. For example, new customers should automatically receive an electronic bill with opt-out functionality; experience shows only 2% - 7% choose to do so.

For existing clients every touch-point – including marketing collateral, contact centres, the web site, bill stuffers and incentives – should be used to drive adoption. Billers can also encourage existing customers to move from paper bills by sending both paper and electronic bills with opt-in and opt-out choices.

CASE STUDY

A major electricity utility in New England recently undertook a pilot project to deliver its bills to residential customers securely via e-mail, and to introduce a revolutionary new ability to take cheque payments directly from within the e-mail bill.

A random pilot group of customers was selected; 5% of these targeted customers signed up within the first ten days.

Clear objectives were laid out to ensure that project results were measurable and sustainable. These were as follows:

  • To test and prove that required document formats could be delivered.
  • To measure the speed of delivery.
  • To test selected pilot customers’ responses.
  • To refine the data delivery process.
  • To gain internal business approval.
  • To close the ‘in-e-mail’ payment process.
  • To test customer acceptance and usage of this payment option.

The results were astounding. A 98% e-mail deliverability rate was achieved. Fewer than 9% of the pilot customers unsubscribed, which meant that the successful transition to e-mail bills was over 90%. The Days Sales Outstanding of those customers that chose the ‘in-e-mail’ payment option (22%) was 12 days – less than 50% compared to the average! 94% of customers surveyed responded that they wanted this utility to continue to offer e-mail billing.

By introducing simple-to-use e-mail EBPP solutions, the challenges of EBPP adoption can be easily resolved and significant cost saving benefits achieved.