Blog / 18th March 2016

How mobile can play a central role in the collections journey for utilities

Posted by Ben Badger

Asking for what is owed or even sometimes talking about money is an age old faux pas, but it’s something utility providers do every day. Making contact with customers and getting them to pay to recover debt is a constant challenge, resulting in millions of letters being sent and calls being made often to no answer, with every effort cutting into resources and revenue and driving up costs.

Standards of customer service are under immense scrutiny and with consumers becoming increasingly price aware utility companies are working harder than ever to deliver a good customer experience, support vulnerable customers and prevent aged debt. Typically, a letter and phone call to a customer were the standard channels used in the collection process, before being escalated to an agency if needed.  This approach is susceptible to failed contact; with communications being ignored by customers or a lack of a succinct payment journey all contributing to less money collected.  Ultimately this may lead to the service being suspended or even terminated, and most likely the relationship with that customer damaged beyond repair.

How utility providers collect payments and recover consumer debt is under extreme scrutiny from regulators, meaning that the collections process and customer experience is a high priority for utility providers. Some are hesitant to change their processes, worried about negatively impacting customer satisfaction and reducing current collection rates, or cannot make the transition due to being encumbered by legacy systems. However, with the introduction of smart metres,  the day-to-day management of home utilities has become more mobile centric, and utility providers should be looking to leverage mobile’s reach and widespread adoption to deploy smarter collection strategies.

I think where mobile can help the most, is by creating a collections journey that can be started and completed through just the mobile phone, making the experience as painless as possible for both parties.

 It’s well established that mobile communication channels, such as SMS and push notifications, achieve higher read rates than email and are far better received by vulnerable customers than a telephone call. These channels can be used to lightly engage with customers and initiate the collections process to deliver a better experience. They can warn customers about their usage, that their monthly bill is ready to be viewed online or that they need to make a payment, etc. Its light touch engagement that delivers greater transparency and will help to stop ‘bill shock’, which if occurs doubles the odds of a customer switching to a competitor.

At IMImobile we have helped our clients use channels such as two-way SMS chat to pre-contact customers in order to arrange appointments and calls that suit them. The same approach can be applied to the collections process for utilities. SMS chat enables customers and agents to have a real-time conversation via the more approachable texting channel. Agents can introduce themselves, state reasons for contact, and ‘warm up’ customers to discuss making a payment. This approach creates a more conversational and personalised approach. Does it work?  Yes, and we have seen warmed up calls are 50-60% more likely to be picked up which allows contact centre agents to talk to the customer.

So mobile channels can be used to start the collections process, but as for enabling payment, the fact that utilities are competing with the streamlined payment experiences of companies like Amazon, works in their favour. With consumers now expecting to make payments through multiple channels, utilities can harness the familiarity with mobile payments to increase collection rates. With communications about collections now being delivered through mobile, customers can see the message and then be provided with a ‘Call To Action’ smart link taking them to a mobile web page or app to make a payment. This completes the collection journey without the mobile having to ever leave the customer’s hands.

This blog post barely scratches the surface of  the part that mobile can play in future for the collection process, but it gives an idea of mobile collection strategies that can be deployed alongside your existing processes to improve the customer experience and increase collection rates on first contact.

Written by Ben Badger, Account Manager at IMImobile. If you would like to know more about our work in the utilities sector with leading providers such as British Gas, contact Ben at ben.badger@imimobile.com

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