The Billing Moment: Mind the Gap

Utilities are encouraged to explore opportunities through the development of communications around the bill.
Published: Tue 01 Sep 2015

The bill is a high risk point when it comes to switching. Since the billing moment is when the utility and customer have the most contact, it is important to get it right. Also, the bill is often the moment around which customer satisfaction hinges most.

Customer expectations not being met

According to Matt Brooks, Product Research Lead, Opower, who will be co-presenting the upcoming webinar, Fixing the Billing Moment: The billing experience from the customer perspective, there is a huge gap in terms of customer expectations when it comes to service provision, particularly billing, by the utility. Other industries such as online retailers and banking, are certainly taking the lead in meeting these growing expectations and customers are expecting utilities to follow suit.  

Mr Brooks explains that the utility has the ability to transform the billing moment from a negative experience into one that is more positive. For instance, he says that according to research carried out, customers focus on the amount owed because the rest of the information on the bill is mostly “mystifying”.  

Because the information on the bill is not presented clearly and is not very meaningful, high bills are an even bigger shock because it is often difficult to make sense of a bill breakdown. He suggests that utilities focus on making the bill easier to understand, to start with.

According to Mr Brooks, research shows that high bill notification is most important to customers, yet it is the most underserved. This opens up an opportunity to develop communications around the bill. For instance, utilities can send notifications to customers warning them that they are on course for a high bill and suggesting ways in which to lower consumption levels. “Basically, utilities need to install guard rails on the billing experience.”

To avoid a highly negative billing experience, utilities can prepare their customers for the high bill or they can use the opportunity to help them lower their bill by suggesting personalised tips on how to lower consumption. The aim is to avoid a negative reaction like switching supplier so it’s important to keep the customer informed with communication that is meaningful and helpful. This also means that notices should be sent out at relevant times so that customers have the opportunity to prepare themselves for the bill or make relevant changes.

Customer psychology behind billing

Very little research has been done to pull apart the customer experience and determine why customers react to and act on their bill the way they do. By understanding customer psychology during the billing moment -- especially around bill shock, which is associated with low sentiment and high-cost call-ins – energy retailers can better predict customer response. And, most importantly, they can start to eliminate inefficiencies throughout the billing experience, improve customer satisfaction, and prevent high cost actions.

For instance, Opower research shows that low income customers generally don’t respond well to messages that focus on money and savings. Research shows that these messages are highly stressful for this group since they are always worried about finance. Simple changes to wording such as “this will make your house more comfortable” or “you deserve more comfort” will create a different approach and is more likely to capture their attention.

While the billing moment should be a top priority for utilities when it comes to avoiding churn, Mr Brooks points out that there is still the need for a balanced approach. By building out a consistent and thoughtful approach to all touchpoints with customers, a better utility-customer relationship will be created, thereby reducing the potential for switching in the future.