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4th of July Special: Customer Independence Day

In the spirit of 4th of July, the holiday that celebrates our nation’s independence, I thought it would be appropriate to explore one form of independence that can be found in customer billing: Customer Self-Service. At Billtrust, we perceive Customer Self-Service to be the practice of empowering customers to resolve billing questions and payments without engaging you, the biller, in phone calls and office visits which can disrupt the productivity of your staff in the days following your billing.

Below are three of the most common billing questions asked by consumers and three best practices you can adopt to become well on your way to celebrating Customer Self-Service, or as I would like to call it, Customer Independence Day. I “misplaced” my bill – can you send me a new copy? What do the true Billing Rockstars do when asked this question by one of their customers? Direct the customer to their website to access an electronic replica of the bill that was originally mailed.

By taking this approach, billers eliminate time spent reprinting and resending statements in addition to the postage cost required to mail a bill for a second time. Customers are also happy because they have immediate access to their bill, 24/7, and can make a payment online if they’ve waited until the last minute to pay their bill. The amount I owe seems high. How much was my bill last time and how much did I pay? We find that the most progressive billers provide at least 12 months of billing and payment history online to their customers. In doing so, customers quickly realize that it takes far less time to find an answer to a questions like this online than it does over the phone. I will be out of town next month. What can I do to avoid paying a late fee on my bill when I get back?

For many billers, especially utility companies, it has been a longstanding practice to offer an automatic bank draft program to customers so that payments can be made without any action required (other than sign-up) by the customer. While this practice works for some customers, the majority of payers are uncomfortable using automatic bank drafts for fear that their bill may spike in a given month. There are two best practices for billers looking to accommodate customers who will be out of town or will be unable to physically make a payment when their bill is due.

1. Offer  the ability to schedule payments or make auto payments with the option to set a threshold dollar amount While scheduled payments are a fairly straightforward concept (a customer sets the date a payment is to be withdrawn from their credit card or bank account), dollar threshold amounts are a fairly new concept to the billing industry. Consumer billers have seen online payment levels jump significantly when offering customers the ability to set a dollar threshold when signing up for automatic payments. This threshold limits the amount of money that can be withdrawn from a customer’s account (say $100) without further authorization by the customer (typically an email). This protects a customer from automatically paying a bill that spikes without having sufficient funds in their account and also provides more payment flexibility than automatic bank drafts as customers can auto-pay through their credit card.

2. Provide mobile account access Mobile account access provides a tremendous benefit to your customers who will be traveling without access to a computer or laptop. It is critical that your mobile billing platform offers all the features that are available through your online billing portal or else your customers may not feel comfortable relying on their smartphone to view and pay a bill. If you have any questions or comments regarding these or any other approaches to achieving “Customer Self-Service,” please post below!  

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