Increasing Customer Adoption of Utility E-Billing and Self-Service Sites. White Paper November 2008

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1 Increasing Customer Adoption of Utility E-Billing and Self-Service Sites White Paper November 2008

2 Executive Summary Deregulation in the energy industry has created new urgency for electric, gas and other utilities to find ways to differentiate their offerings, attract new customers and retain existing accounts. E-billing and self-service create tremendous opportunities for utilities to build stronger customer relationships while significantly reducing their cost of customer service, but success is entirely dependent on customer adoption. Today, while other industries boast e-billing adoption rates of 30-40% and higher, less than 10% of utility customers have adopted e-billing. Utilities were early adopters of e-billing and payment technologies, but they have fallen behind. Today, while other industries boast e-billing adoption rates of 30-40% and higher, less than 10% of utility customers have adopted e-billing. Most utility e-billing sites offer limited functionality, poor performance and do little to encourage their customers to switch to the online channel for billing and customer care. Some of the nation s leading utilities are beginning to show the way though. These organizations are building strong adoption of their online channel by offering customers rich billing content customized to their needs. For residential customers, this includes comprehensive online billing, account management, one-time and recurring electronic payments, service usage analysis, online service requests and online adjustment requests. For business customers, additional capabilities include consolidated billing, online service requests and approval workflow capabilities. This paper discusses how utilities can immediately save money and improve customer satisfaction with compelling self-service capabilities that: Build stronger relationships through a strategic customer touch point The monthly bill is the most common opportunity for a utility to interact with its customers. As such, it provides the best and most efficient platform to communicate information, offer new services and build an ongoing relationship. A feature rich e-billing solution enables your customers to manage all their account activity online. This makes it easier for them to do business with you, improves customer satisfaction and creates higher switching costs. Deflect contact center calls and reduce customer service costs The vast majority of calls to a utility call center concern a bill, a payment, a service order or a simple account management request. Comprehensive e-billing and self-service solutions make it easier to present the most important customer information online. As a result, more contacts are deflected from the call center and customer service costs are reduced. Streamline payment processing and reduce DSO Payments are one of the most common online capabilities used by utility customers. The ability to offer comprehensive payment capabilities one time payments, panic payments, mobile payments; the ability to use different payment accounts, and to set specific dates all in one place, is very important to customer adoption. In addition, online bill payment reduces Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) by avoiding mail and processing delays. Reduce print and mailing costs A richer online experience means more customers committed to the online channel and more customers turning off their paper utility bill. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, this saves considerable cost in paper, postage and handling each month Decrease operational costs Content rich e-billing and self-service solutions drive additional benefits by automating time consuming billing disputes, service scheduling, and even meter reading. In addition, the solution can be deployed in multiple languages, simplifying call center staffing needed to serve a diverse customer base. 2

3 e-billing in Utilities: False Start In the late 1990s when e-billing and payment were in their infancy, electric, gas and other utilities were at the forefront. Energy providers understood that their customers would appreciate the convenience, efficiency and control of online account management. They also recognized the potential to reduce their operating and customer service costs by shifting transactions to the online channel. Unfortunately, most utilities failed to capitalize on the opportunity. They took an overly simplistic approach to e-billing and payment and didn t consider what customers really needed: feature-rich and easy-to-use websites where they could manage their most frequent interactions with the utility. Instead, many utilities started and stayed with an application service provider (ASP) model that offered very limited functionality and accessibility. As a result, utility customers either never started, or stopped using the service, so gains were never made. Recognizing the limitations of existing homegrown systems, utilities that make the leap to packaged applications reap the rewards: faster time to market, increased return on investment and long-term business value that starts with increased adoption. Today, leading utilities are beginning to show the way. These organizations have successfully leveraged the lessons learned in other mature web-savvy industries such as telecommunications and financial services, and are starting to see the strong adoption levels and healthy business benefits that come with a comprehensive e-billing solution. Proven Business Value with the Right Approach For many energy companies who built their own or used an ASP e-billing solution and may be struggling with low adoption, and for those who are considering the build versus buy question, the maturity of available packaged applications and the demonstrated benefits of bringing the solution in-house are beginning to ease the debate. Recognizing the limitations of existing homegrown systems, utilities that make the leap to packaged applications reap the rewards: faster time to market, increased return on investment and long-term business value that starts with increased adoption. These organizations also minimize risk and achieve predictability around project costs, time estimates and going live with the functionality expected. Oracle s E-Billing and Self-Service suite is the industry s leading packaged solution and has over 125 million enrolled users worldwide today, including several major utilities. It enables a superior online experience because it wraps around the transactional account data customers need to access most. This gives customers the power to view, assess, pay, report and manage their information online anytime. Implementation experts like Aeturnum can also work with the Oracle application to launch additional self-service features such as service management, search and account personalization as well as integrate with other support systems such as interactive voice response (IVR) and assisted service. Consumers, business customers and business partners want the power to manage accounts online and find answers to their questions and utilities need the savings and satisfaction enabled by real e-billing and online self-service. e-billing as a service to customers is the first step to making a utility s web site the first stop and preferred channel for customer care. 3

4 The e-billing Evolution The advances in technology and ubiquity of the Internet have made online transactions simple and common for most. In the utility business, a good e-billing solution will let a customer receive and pay bills or invoices online, sort, filter and drilldown on detail to analyze usage and validate charges, make online service requests, and when that customer is a business, assign and manage payments by division, department or geography. The challenge for many utility companies is that their existing sites do not have the ability to offer these types of functionality or the ease of use that users need to fully adopt them. Utilities are now facing direct pressure from their customers to offer more effective online billing and payment solutions. Utility Customer Needs Direct access to account data on the utility website Easy to use e-billing, payment and online account management capabilities New features and incentives to visit the utility e-billing and self service website Common Utility Offerings Redirects to third party consolidator sites to view and pay their bills. Limited functionality with only 3 of 4 even offering a simple FAQ document Lagging functionality that offers little/no reason to do anything differently (use paper and phone) Utilities are now facing direct pressure from their customers to offer more effective online billing and payment solutions. Accustomed to online conveniences offered by their telecommunications and financial service companies, customers are now looking for utilities to deliver the same. And as leading utilities are now experiencing, the right approach delivers big results. Case Study Brief North American Utility Leads the Way This utility, a large provider of electricity and natural gas services in the Southwestern United States, joined the early e-billing movement by piloting an ASP solution to support a consolidator model. The company quickly recognized how important the e-billing interaction was as a consistent and interactive customer touch point and consequently moved to a direct biller model using Oracle s comprehensive e-billing and self-service platform to drive it. Within three months of making the move, customer usage increased threefold and has continued to grow. Enrollment is over 25% - the highest online adoption of any utility provider in North America. Its website was also ranked first in terms of functionality and usability amongst a survey of 97 utility websites in an independent survey. This utility not only offered the convenience of online billing and payment, but also enabled incremental functionality such as consolidated billing allowing customers to manage multiple electric and gas accounts from a single customer experience. The result was increased adoption, improved customer satisfaction and a lower total cost of ownership for e-billing and self-service. 4

5 E-Billing: The Cornerstone of Effective Online Self-Service A majority of the calls to a utility call center are related to billing and payment or to request service orders and account changes. When handled through online self-service, customers get immediate resolution and providers avoid the cost associated with each call. Recent figures from Gartner Research put the savings tally at just over $26 million a year for the average company delivering e-bills and migrating customer service calls to web-based selfservice. The most effective online self-service solution starts with account information gathered from disparate legacy systems and integrated in an e-billing application. The most effective online self-service solution starts with account information gathered from disparate legacy systems and integrated in an e-billing application. This ensures the right foundation of data on which to build more advanced self-service features including account management, service management, search and personalization. With this approach, users have an integrated, natural and preferred starting point for all customer service issues, empowering them to perform functions via the Web or Interactive Voice Response (IVR) that might otherwise go through a person in a call center or other channel. Some examples of extended self-service functionality include: Service Management: Allowing customers to suspend, terminate, or start utility services through the web channel. Reporting and Analytics: Allowing customers to review and compare their usage patterns and learn about how they can control their utility spending. Targeted Marketing and Communications: Integrating with content management systems to deliver relevant messages to customers about service outages and receiving messages about utility-specific issues such as Report Before You Dig and Report an Outage. Customer Notifications and Alerts: Enable customers to set up text-based alerts that can be delivered to their desktop and various mobile devices. Time-Sensitive Information: Integrating with smart Meter Data Management apps such as LodeStar, providing time-sensitive and actionable information for customers. 5

6 In conjunction with broader self-service features, e-billing provides a compelling valuable proposition and delivers benefits to all parties. Savings from E-Billing and Payment B2C Utilities and their customers gain convenience, efficiency and control, improving satisfaction and significantly lowering operational costs in the process. Function Paper shut-off Migrating customer service contacts from the call center to the web Cost Comparison (per transaction) $1.10 per paper residential bill vs. $.44 per web bill $4.50 for each phone call vs. $.10 per online interaction. Savings from E-Billing and Payment B2B Gartner estimates an average annual savings of over $7 million a year for a utility having just 75,000 bills per month, 198,000 invoice-related calls a year, and a 13 percent dispute rate In a B2B relationship, invoices are more complicated, values are higher and disputes occur more than three times as often as they do in a B2C transaction. With e-billing, the average $55 cost for manual resolution of an invoice dispute can be halved when the dispute is resolved online. Faster resolution to invoice disputes also shortens days sales outstanding (DSO). Gartner estimates an average annual savings of over $7 million for a utility having just 75,000 bills per month, 198,000 invoice-related calls a year, and a 13 percent dispute rate. Function Paper shut-off Cost Comparison (per transaction) $5.00 per paper business bill vs. $2.00 per web bill Migrating customer service contacts from the call center to the web Automated invoice dispute $17.00 for each phone call vs. $10 per online interaction $55 per dispute handled manually vs. $27.50 per online resolution Strong Overall Benefits No matter how you look at it, a comprehensive e-billing and online self-service capability delivers strong business value for utilities: Benefit Reduced print, postage and payment processing costs Reduced customer support costs via call deflection Improved customer satisfaction and retention Improved cash flow ROI 85% reduction in processing costs % of utility customer service calls are billing and payment related. The online channel is 50 times less costly. Online customers have dramatically lower churn rates. Reduced DSO by as much as 10 days 6

7 Greater Usage, Greater Gains The better the adoption of the online channel, the greater the ROI, but high rates of adoption are not required to get the payback started. An assessment from Forrester Research has a positive return-on-investment being achieved with a 10 to 12 percent enrollment rate when paper invoices are eliminated and online account management is available. An analysis of contact center statistics shows that the vast majority often 60 to 80 percent of customer service issues relate to a customer s account, and could be resolved quickly and satisfactorily via web self-service. However, if the customer chooses another route, the customer service experience must be consistent, ensuring a unified, high-quality interface with every interaction. For example, if the voice response (IVR) channel is used by a customer, it is essential that the accessible data and actionable tasks be comprehensive and similar to the web channel. Also, when the customer requires assisted care or on the spot human interaction, the enterprise agent needs access to the same account and customer service information as well as transactional capability. An assessment from Forrester Research has a positive returnon-investment being achieved with a 10 to 12 percent enrollment rate when paper invoices are eliminated and online account management is available. Most importantly, by taking an integrated approach across multiple channels, the organization not only provides flexibility to its customers, but also ensures that it executes a more sensible overall customer service strategy. Typically, with the siloed approach to multiple channel support, such as IVR based payments being processed by a third party vendor, organizations relinquish control and fail to capitalize on the opportunity to shape customer behavior and migrate customers to the most cost-effective service channel. With an integrated multi-channel strategy in place, an organization is able to educate a customer who is attempting to make a credit card payment on the IVR channel about other payment options such as automated monthly debit or web based ACH payments before enabling the IVR transaction. So with the right technology platform and integration partner in place, an organization can enable an integrated multi-channel service strategy that offers the greatest convenience to its customers while optimizing costs. The utility that can support the customer service process with one self-service platform will achieve: Superior, consistent customer service, Increased efficiency, Lower customer service costs, Lowered total cost of ownership versus maintaining separate silo support systems. Selecting the Right Solution For every reason to buy versus build an e-billing solution, there are as many criteria to evaluate vendor-supplied solutions. The overlap between the two is significant because not every vendor can provide precisely what a growing organization needs to enable instant and secure access to the breadth and depth of customer account information. This is especially critical in the utilities industry, where so many companies web sites rank poorly for function and usability. Among the criteria recommended by industry experts when selecting a solution are: underlying technology, integration partner, product scope, geographic breadth, interface capabilities and a company s focus on e-billing and online self-service as a core or non-core part of its business. 7

8 Product/Technology The availability of core electronic billing and payment functions and advanced, integrated capabilities such as authentication, enrollment, auditing and reporting, workflows, notification and personalized presentation; Does the application use Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE), and will it adapt to support specific electronic payment standards as they emerge? The ability of the solution to scale at launch and over time to support millions of complex accounts and thousands of concurrent users without limiting the extent of data that can be accessed and reviewed; What are the potential implications of database licensing? How will data integrity be protected? Are there appropriate security standards in place both for securing customer account information and protecting network resources? How will authentication and enrollment be managed? Will customer service representatives be able to access the same e-billing view as the customer? Are both B2C and B2B e-billing models supported? Integration Partner Does the solution provider understand and apply e-billing best practices? Do they have experience customizing, integrating and deploying the application? The ability to interface with existing billing, call center, accounting, web, ERP and self-service applications/systems? The ability to evolve the solution with online account management and other self-service capabilities and to apply these features across alternate service channels as warranted. Can they incorporate non-standard payment methods such as PIN-less debit cards and mobile payments? Do they have a thorough understanding of database objects and relationships? These often need to be extended to incorporate more detailed account information. Time to Market and ROI What is the cost of ownership for the e-billing platform? Will the vendor provide ways to increase customer adoption? Geographic Breadth Will the solution allow for consolidated processes and uniformity across boundaries? 8

9 Leverage the Full Benefits of E-Billing and Self-Service The ROI potential of e-billing and online self-service for utilities is huge, but success is enabled by end-user adoption, paper bill shut off and call center activity deflection. The more that online billing and account information can be customized to the needs of the utility customer, the more the customer will do online and the greater the ROI for the utility. While many utility companies recognize this potential, few have taken the next step to realize it: providing the comprehensive functionality and ease of use that consumers and business customers demand. By investing in proven e-billing and self-service solutions and service providers, utilities minimize their risk and increase their ability to fully realize the potential of the technology. Consumers, business customers and business partners all gain from e-billing and online self-service and business payback is high even with modest adoption. Aeturnum Inc. 319 Littleton Road, Suite 103 Westford, MA USA tel fax Aeturnum has deep expertise customizing, integrating, deploying and maintaining both packaged and internally developed e-billing solutions, including the industry-leading Oracle Self-Service and E-Billing suite. Aeturnum is a certified Oracle implementation partner and has experience deploying the application in a variety of environments and technology stacks. We also have Oracle-certified database professionals on staff with a thorough understanding of e-billing database objects and relationships. This enables our team to quickly and cost-effectively extend the application s out-of-the-box functionality to a utility s specifications and provide a unique and compelling end-user experience that dramatically increases user adoption and ROI. More information is available at

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