Echo's Software Director Andy Mack discusses what water companies can do to improve current billing practices and customer satisfaction...
Billing mistakes are a common occurrence in every industry - whether due to human error or a problem with an automated process. But, it's when errors happen regularly, or become difficult to resolve, that longer-term issues such as a loss of customer trust and loyalty can occur.
Our recent research "The Secrets of Better Billing" has shown us that the billing issues that frustrate customers most are:
- receiving bills that are higher than expected without warning
- bills that are complex and difficult to understand
- being put on a higher tariff than necessary
These are three key areas to address ahead of increased competition in the water sector.
The consequences of getting billing wrong
Where customers have choice, an obvious consequence will be loss of custom. Our research found that 45% of consumers would consider switching to a competitor due to billing problems, whilst one in seven would switch instantly without hesitation.
Customers are becoming more confident in raising complaints and contacting industry regulators when issues arise. One only has to look back over the last 12 months to see the rise in the number of customer complaints against water companies - with ten out of 21 water companies in England and Wales recording increases in written complaints from customers.
Improving billing practices
Billing is a key customer touchpoint and poor experience can impact the bottom line. So, what steps should water companies take to improve?
- Respond to errors quicker: customers want reassurance that their issue will be investigated and resolved in a timely manner. Being proactive in solving issues will boost customer trust and loyalty.
- Provide clearer bills: bill clarity was the biggest concern in our research with a third of customers requesting less jargon and more transparency. Clearer bills can also reduce unnecessary and repeat contacts.
- Offer choice: not all customers want to receive their bill in the same way. Although online billing is growing in popularity, some customers still prefer a paper bill. Great customer service means offering choice.
- Reminders ahead of payment: an automated email or SMS reminder can improve customer relations and mitigate some debt - lessening the likelihood of missed payments.
With Open Water almost upon us, and the likelihood of competition in the domestic water market, it's important for companies to consider how they will appeal to customers who may have an ocean of choice. Reviewing and improving billing practices and processes is imperative to the delivery of great customer service - which could be a key competitive differentiator as the industry continues to evolve.
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