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Pay by Text

SMS offers an alternative to paper billing. Smart Meters Driving Adoption Customer Engagement Supporting the Payment Process Learning from Europe

Fortnightly Magazine - February 2011

replace existing, costly mailings with a more timely and flexible solution. Unlike postal mail, SMS reaches the intended recipient in a matter of seconds.

Integrating SMS technology into existing infrastructure enables utilities to reap multiple benefits across other communication channels. The use of SMS helps to alleviate the pressure on inbound call queues, and reduces waiting times for customers, which in turn enhances the customer’s experience, and maximizes efficiency.

SMS enables companies to provide a value-added service to better connect with their customers. By introducing this new and popular channel for customers to use, companies could see increased customer response to a variety of issues. Recent statistics from Jupiter Research show that consumer engagement triples when you integrate mobile platforms into customer service. These statistics prove that SMS could hold significant potential in terms of improving the relationship between a company and its customers.

For utility companies in particular, SMS can provide an opportunity to inform existing customers of any upcoming issues that they need to be aware of. For example, helpful information on planned power cuts or possible power outages due to maintenance work could be easily and conveniently sent via SMS and would be happily received by customers who can then plan their activities and energy usage accordingly. Sending such unwelcome news as fee increases over the SMS network without prior warning might not be as acceptable. The cell phone is a very personal space where only relevant, useful information will be tolerated.

There is already a move amongst utility companies towards EBPP (electronic bill presentment and payment), with smart meters helping to drive the take-up. The convenience and ease of use of e-billing and payments systems attracts consumers to using SMS. In the NACHA survey, 62 percent of respondents highlighted “easy access to bills” as one of their top reasons for switching to an automated system. The evolution of EBPP will enable utilities to offer electronic payments to customers who prefer faster, more secure billing options, and get rid of many costly processes and much slower paper-based processes, while integrating a vast number of payment and reminder options to the consumer.

There are four main aspects of e-billing that utilities can address through the use of SMS: companies can send payment reminders to encourage customers to pay on time; they can enhance their customer service by SMSing immediate confirmations to let customers know that payments have been received; they can get instant traction with delinquent customers by sending cancellation avoidance messages to inform customers when their payments are critically overdue; and they can also use SMS for payment authorization messages.

Credit and debit cards payments are beginning to be accepted by some investor owned utilities—contingent on the approval of public utility commissions. However, a standard for handling fees associated with accepting credit cards doesn’t yet exist, as is also true for charging convenience fees. So here again, utilities are having to work out how to deal with the costs in order to match the convenient payment options of other service industries.

Through using new channels such as SMS to