Satisfy Your Customers With Paperless Billing Option
Popularity of Online Banking Leads to New Expectations
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
As competition for propane customers grows fiercer every year, dealers need to do more to make their companies attractive. One area where a company can differentiate itself and gain an edge in recruitment and retention is online services such as paperless billing.
The popularity of e-commerce and online transactions continues to grow year after year, and there is a huge advantage to be gained by embracing these trends and providing a robust online environment where customers can truly conduct business with you.
Consider some recent survey findings:
- Seventy-five percent of U.S. households use the Internet, and 69 percent have at least one person who banks online, according to the Fiserv 2010 survey of household billing.
- Online banking has increased by 84% in the last decade, while online bill payment has increased by 78%, according to the Fiserv survey.
- Thirty-six percent of bank customers said they prefer online banking in a 2010 survey by the American Bankers Association. That is up from 25 percent in the 2009 survey.
The best way to take advantage of the growing popularity of online business is to get in sync with it. When your company has a robust online presence that gives consumers the ability to complete transactions online, you separate yourself from your less advanced competitors.
Not only do you please online consumers by providing the options they want, you provide strong, positive signals about your company. E-commerce capabilities are mostly associated with technologically advanced companies like Amazon and NetFlix. By offering robust e-commerce opportunities, you give your company a modern image that reflects well on you.
Give Customers What They Want
One service that a lot of online customers appreciate is paperless billing, also known as e-billing. Consumers who embrace the online environment generally want to migrate bill paying out of the paper realm and into the electronic one. You can satisfy them by offering an e-billing option that brings their home comfort transactions completely online.
An e-billing option offers tremendous convenience for the customer. They can receive bills as electronic statements that are easy to store and retrieve and which facilitate online transactions. E-bills can be easily linked to a pay online interface that can accommodate options for credit card payment and direct pay via Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT), making it fast and easy for the customer to pay.
Convenience is just one benefit of e-billing. Customers also save money when they pay online because they don't have to shell out for stamps, envelopes or checks. E-billing is also seen as a "green" service because it reduces paper consumption and saves trees.
E-Billing Reduces Your Costs
E-billing not only makes your company more attractive; it also saves you money. E-bills require no paper, no postage and minimal handling, so you save on paper bills, envelopes, postage and administration. Paperless billing can improve cash flow by presenting bills more quickly and making it easy for customers to pay promptly. You can also customize an e-bill template so that it has space for company announcements and promotions.
It would be ideal if you could transition all your customers to e-billing and eliminate your paper billing system altogether, but that won't happen any time soon. Many of your customers will continue to need or prefer paper billing, which means you'll be offering both options for years to come. Make sure your billing provider can handle both formats with a foolproof mechanism for moving customers from one to the other.
Use multiple outlets to alert customers to the e-billing option. Add a section to your paper bills that announces the service and directs customers to your Website to learn more and sign up. On your site, add an e-billing page that provides a comprehensive explanation and enables customers to sign up for the service on the spot. You should also publicize e-billing in every issue of your newsletter for at least a year, and you might want to send a letter announcing it to every customer.
Promote Online Convenience
Once you have made e-billing available, take a close look at your other online service offerings. Rather than compare your company to your propane rivals, look to established e-commerce retailers such as booksellers and clothing retailers. Like those businesses, your company accepts customer orders and fulfills them. Ask yourself what you'd like to expect online from a company like yours, then try to meet your own expectations.
Here are some website elements you can deploy to make your site the most convenient and customer-friendly in your market.
Paperless newsletters: Create a PDF or HTML version of your company newsletter that can be e-mailed, and give customers the choice to go paperless there as well.
E-mail harvesting: On your home page, provide a space where customers can request paperless billing and paperless newsletters and send you their e-mail address.
Online enrollments: Eliminate obstacles to becoming a customer or joining your programs by making enrollment available online. Put as many enrollment options as you can on your site, including new customer, price protection, budget plans, service plans and more. Online consumers expect to complete transactions instantly online, and it behooves you to be the propane company that satisfies them. You can reserve the right to reject unsatisfactory applications upon review.
Resource information: Answer lots of relevant questions on your site, such as explaining how to sign up for fuel assistance and where to find more information about energy conservation. Internet retailers have trained people to expect lots of information on their websites, and you look like a leader when you publish a wealth of helpful information.
Company documents: If you publish printed materials for customers and prospects, make those available on your website: company newsletter, service plan brochures, written policies, etc. Customers expect to find everything they're looking for online. Make your site comprehensive so that your company can stand out from the competition by meeting high customer expectations.
Employee Documents: You can create an employee-only section of your site where employees can view important documents such as benefit plan descriptions, company directories and emergency contact information. Employees will be able to access the password-protected information any time through a Web browser.
Account lookup: Customers appreciate the ability to view their account history online. Some back-end systems have modules to enable this feature. If your software does not support account lookup, you might be able to provide access to up-to-date information through the site with a workaround.
Walk-on introduction: Install an introduction video in which a company representative (or an actor) steps into your home page and gives a short introduction to the company and the Website.
Live help: Offer an online instant messaging module that a site visitor can use to chat online with a company representative.
Service area search: A simple interface where customers can enter their Zip Code to find out whether your company serves their area.
Videos and blogs: Online customers appreciate a Website that serves up timely information that is easy to use. Use brief videos to highlight your company and services. Publish a blog with recent information about energy efficiency, rebate opportunities and more.
If you're planning to take your online presence to the next level, be sure to take the behind-the-scenes steps that will help Internet users find your website: search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising.
When you offer paperless billing and publish a website that makes it ultra convenient to do business with the company, you make your company stand out to Internet-savvy consumers. More of your customers and prospects fit this profile with each passing year, so you invest in your company's future when you invest in Internet conveniences.
For more information on paperless billing and other online conveniences, please call PriMedia or contact us. We'll be happy to explain the steps you can take to make it easier for customers to do business with your company.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.propane-advertising.com.