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Paperless billing is about customers, not paper

Paperless billing is about customers, not paper

There are enormous benefits to paperless billing. From a business perspective, companies save the cost of print and postage, while from an environmental point of view far fewer resources are involved in sending electronic bills than physical ones. For the consumer, however, the benefits may need to be pointed out clearly by utility companies.

Naturally, paper-free billing means less paper delivered to homes every month, something which most people see as a benefit. Many businesses also provide incentives to encourage their customers to make the move. But in order to make a switch to paperless billing a success, companies must ensure their customers are well informed about the process and its benefits.

The customer is the priority

Companies thinking of making the switch should approach the changeover project from the customer service perspective, rather than focusing only on the change in systems.

As a provider of utility billing solutions to the energy industry, Jendev is regularly involved in paperless billing projects. This experience has shown us that it's vital to earn the trust of customers before embarking on the switchover.

The green benefits mean that some environmentally-focused customers may be keen to switch, and a large proportion will be used to running their affairs electronically, making the changeover a natural progression for them.

However, there will be a significant percentage of the customer base who are less motivated or interested in changing the way they administer their account - particularly older customers who have undertaken the same paper-based processes for decades. Winning them over will require carefully planned communication to educate them about the benefits of changing to paperless billing, and explain how to access online bills. Depending on the numbers involved, it could even be worth taking the educational element further and providing training directly to customers who are reluctant to engage with the initiative.

Communicate before penalising

Incentives do work and are generally better accepted than penalties, which usually come in the form of an admin fee which makes people feel forced into the change. A small discount for agreeing to paperless billing can be more effective than a small charge added to accounts that keep paper bills - although both may be seen by some as amounting to a penalty for not changing.

Administration charges may also bring companies into contact with the regulator, who could demand a justification for the level of a charge that is being added to paper-based accounts.

While there is a choice between using the carrot or the stick, there is little doubt from our experience that extensive preparatory communications are the most effective way to encourage people to change.

Build trust

It's important that customers trust the new system and are able to interact with it easily. It's a good idea to provide a step-by-step guide to the new process, and also to confirm how customers can query bills or halt automated payments should they be using them.

It's also important to deal with issues like phishing, giving clear guidance to clients about how they can recognise genuine communications and confirming that customers would never be asked to divulge password details. It's essential to ask them to report any suspected instances of phishing because just one successful phishing incident can cause significant reputational damage.

When moving to paperless billing, the onus is on the client to make sure they see their bill when it arrives in their inbox. It makes sense to encourage them to adjust their email settings to ensure the message is recognised as genuine and not spam. Reminders to check the bill can also be sent two weeks after the original message, to highlight the fact that a bill is available.

Make the customer comfortable

Making the customer comfortable with the change will go a long way to ensuring the switch over project is successful in the long term but utility companies should be aware that some clients, particularly older ones, may never move.

The reality is that companies may have to accept this reluctance among a small proportion of their customers and continue to issue paper bills for quite some time. Many energy firms are monopolies and, as a result, have to serve everyone in their community: paperless or not, every customer must continue to feel valued.

Paperless billing has many social and business advantages but that may not mean it is the right move for everyone. Clearly however, a considered and well managed communications strategy can increase uptake and significantly reduce the pain for both customers and the business when the paperless billing changeover does take place.

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Stuart Murphy Business Lead

Stuart is an MCIM certified Marketer with a broad range of commercial and project management experience in a number of industries, including: manufacturing, e-commerce and utilities.As a consultant, project leader and Business Manager Stuart has help...

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