In our latest blog we examine customer frustrations when it comes to billing whilst looking at what service providers can do to improve this key customer touchpoint...
Today's customers are more informed than ever before, and service providers are under increasing pressure to meet their ever growing customer service expectations. Despite this mounting pressure, over three quarters of customers (77%) report receiving poor service when it comes to billing (a key customer touchpoint) in the last year, according to new research Echo recently commissioned.
Service providers need to be acutely aware of the implications of these findings. One in seven told us they would definitely switch their provider if they experienced a billing issue, whilst almost half (45%) would seriously consider making a switch.
Bearing the above in mind, here are five points for consideration when it comes to billing practices and how service providers handle billing issues.
1. Customer Bill Preferences
In an era of technological advancement, it won't come as a surprise to hear that more than half (57%) of those we surveyed prefer online billing, with respondents citing speed, convenience and increased control as key benefits.
However, it's important not to forget those customers who remain loyal to traditional paper bills. Our research revealed that some customers still prefer to receive a posted paper bill, with this preference strongest for lower income families (31% of those earning less than £10k per year). So, whilst promoting online billing can bring benefits for the supplier and customer alike, forcing customers to go online or introducing charges for paper bills risks frustrating a proportion of the customer base. Great customer service relies of offering customers choice based on their own unique circumstances and preferences.
2. Bill Payment
When it comes to how customers settle their bills, our research highlighted that two thirds (65%) prefer an automated direct debit arrangement. Direct debits are both convenient for customers and increase the chances of suppliers receiving payments on time and in full.
However, 35% of those we surveyed still prefer the control that a manual payment method brings. Therefore, pushing all customers onto a direct debit arrangement can be detrimental - undermining trust and damaging relationships. What's important is that suppliers ensure all customers are on the best tariff for their needs whilst continuing to offer the broadest possible range of payment options.
"There will never be a one size fits all solution when it comes to customers, exercising a degree of flexibility can be highly beneficial for all parties."
3. The Hunt for More Clarity
One in four customers we surveyed said the biggest change they want to see when it comes to billing practices is greater clarity. In fact 70% told us that bills have either become even harder to understand in the last few years or at best remained as complex as they have previously been.
It's important for suppliers not to assume that their customers understand bill formats, layouts and terminology, many customers are regularly confused. For example, simple terms such as "account balance" baffle one in three, whilst "chargeable value" is one of the most confusing, baffling three quarters of consumers we surveyed.
Basic steps such as simplifying terminology and explaining clearly what it means, signposting customers to more in-depth online support and having well-trained contact centre staff in place can add the extra level of detail and support that customers might need.
4. Communication is key
Knowing when to initiate contact with a customer can be tricky, as unwanted contact is irritating to the customer and expensive for the supplier. Success here comes from a deep understanding of each customer, identifying their behaviour trends and offering options for customers to tailor any alerts and communications they receive.
Pre-bill engagement, which 30% of customers told us they already receive, is set to become increasingly important in the future. Bill reminders and advance notice of a higher than usual bill can both support customers and help suppliers to receive payments more promptly.
In our research, two thirds of customers told us they've received no communication or information from suppliers before bills land at their door. This lack of communication around bills can lead to non-payment or delayed payment as well as negatively impacting on a customer's view of their supplier.
"A proactive approach to improved billing communication doesn't have to be expensive. Low cost options such as SMS, email and even social can help achieve this."
5. Sector Comparisions
Water billing hit the headlines late last year, when a report by the Consumer Council for Water revealed that written complaints had risen for over half of water companies in England and Wales, with billing and charges accounting for over three in five registered complaints. Whilst in the energy sector, lack of customer trust is a widely debated issue, with billing related errors regularly making headlines.
Our research demonstrated that in sectors with intense competition (telecoms, financial sector), one in three customers scored billing as eight out of ten or better. In the non-competitive water sector scores were lower, with an average customer approval score of 7.24. Energy companies were even further behind, scoring 7.08 just above the lowest scoring sector - local authorities.
When it comes to billing, customer experiences have the potential to impact the bottom line. It's key for suppliers to understand customer preferences and frustrations, offer choice to customers and keep lines of communication open in order to further support and satisfy customers. Billing is a key customer touchpoint, and getting it right can improve customer relationships, loyalty and trust.
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