Expand customer adoption of electronic and mobile payment solutions.
Increase the convenience of self-service channels for customers.
A Southern natural gas provider was interested in driving more customers to use self-service payment channels, such as Web and mobile platforms. Strong customer service was a high priority for the natural gas provider. However, its eBilling system was not efficiently supporting its needs and elicited a relatively high volume of customer complaints. The system’s inability to register customer payments in real time also added to the number of service disconnects. As a result, there were an unacceptable number of service disconnects in a single month due to non-posted payments, which resulted in angry customers and executive complaints. Recognizing the problem, the natural gas provider turned to Western Union — which was already handling the company’s payments — to help rework its Web strategy.
A Formula for Customer Dissatisfaction
The natural gas provider’s initial eBilling system elicited a high volume of complaints, and the lack of real-time payment updates increased the number of service disconnects.
With the natural gas provider’s former eBilling vendor, the functionality of its Web portal was limited. Customers could submit payments online but could not see their updated account status in real time. Instead, any changes to the account went into a note on the customer’s file that would not be effective until the next business day. The result was a large number of calls to customer service representatives (CSR) to verify that payments were received. “These are complex calls that take five to six minutes, and that’s an expense,” says Lauren Mesch, new business developer at Western Union.
Lack of real-time updates also led to other consequences, such as payment failure and mistaken service disconnects. For example, if a customer checked his account balance on the biller’s Web portal but the portal didn’t show recently assessed late fees, it’s likely that customer would submit an insufficient payment. Or if a customer sent an urgent, last-minute payment, the account status would not be updated in time to cancel the disconnect order, resulting in a major inconvenience for the customer and highly-charged complaints to CSRs. Also, the online payment portal would be unavailable at peak times, preventing customers from making payments when it was convenient for them.
When Western Union took over the Web channel one year ago, the goal was to improve the customer experience. Now when paying online, customer information is validated in real time. “The minute you enter the last digit in your account number, we are pulling your data,” Mesch says. As a result, customers are more informed about the status of their payments, as well as fees impacting their account balance.
Western Union also has the capacity to process a high volume of Web payments, so customers can reliably access the portal at their convenience. The added flexibility and ease of use has yielded approximately 120,000 payments collected per month, Mesch says.
In addition, when the natural gas provider expressed interest in a mobile payments option, Western Union proposed appealing to the broadest base of mobile users by introducing a pay-by-text program.“It’s not something they were looking to do,” Mesch says. “But we said let’s start with [basic] SMS to dip our toes in the mobile waters.” The program, which allows customers to authorize payments via SMS, has seen widespread adoption, to the point where the director of the utility enthusiastically uses the channel herself. “They are thrilled with the ease of use of the product,” Mesch says. Now, approximately 3,800customers use the program monthly, and plans are in the works to expand mobile offerings.
“It’s not something they were looking to do. But we said let’s start with [basic] SMS to dip our toes in the mobile waters. [Customers] are thrilled with the ease of use of the product.”
-Lauren Mesch, new business developer at Western Union
Promotion has also played a critical role in preventing the stagnation of channel adoption rates. A rewards campaign was run internally that awarded incentives to CSRs for signing customers up for eBills. To advertise mobile channels, interactive voice response (IVR) payment system messaging was changed so customers could hear about the benefits and convenience of using pay by text while on hold. These efforts, combined with traditional marketing, ensured that customers were aware of their mobile and online payment options.
Throughout the process, Western Union aimed to be a true partner in helping the natural gas provider meet its customer adoption goals. Through constant communication and discussion, WesternUnion was able to improve the customer experience and meet the utility’s service standards. “They have made a point of saying many times that we are their best vendor because we can treat their customer like theirCSR can,” Mesch says.
“They have made a point of saying many times that we are their best vendor because we can treat their customer like their CSR can.”
- Lauren Mesch, new business developer at Western Union