By Will Adams, Senior Research Analyst –
Customers don’t like to be nickel-and-dimed by their utility any more than any other company they do business with. Whether it’s paying baggage fees while flying, forfeiting a few bucks to take out cash from an ATM or, yes, even forking over a few extra dollars to pay their utility bill with a credit card.
These instances show the frequency and scale with which companies in many different industries fail to consider the consequences of a seemingly innocuous decision that can have a multiplying (and a negative) effect on a customer’s overall experience. While price is still less of a differentiator than it used to be, customers still demand greater value for how they’re spending their hard-earned dollars. But with a plethora of rewards, hotel points, airline miles and cash back offers available, credit card payments have become so ubiquitous that some companies have been slow to effectively adapt to this trend, so much so that analysts and bloggers at Forbes have started to weigh the pros and cons of credit card payments.
And some utilities are starting to take notice. Chartwell research shows fees vary, albeit only slightly, among the five main remittance processors (KUBRA, Western Union, Paymentus, BillMatrix and eBill Preferred). However, as customer complaints about payment fees continue to plague internal voice-of-the-customer studies, many utilities are looking to reduce fees, switch vendors and hopefully mitigate lower customer satisfaction as a result.
Other utilities are consolidating remittance processing vendors as well, as leverage to negotiate lower credit card fees and hopefully reduce customer complaints. Some utilities have even begun to provide fee-free based payment incentives for enrolling in autopay or eBilling to help reduce the “nickel and diming” of customers and the resulting dissatisfaction, but public utility commissions and regulators are hesitant to eliminate payment fees to avoid socializing those costs among customers paying by Automated Clearing House (ACH), debit or cash.
While few utilities have had much success in mitigating lower customer satisfaction by reducing credit card fees, Salt River Project incorporated a more holistic approach to upgrading and enhancing its overall payment experience. In addition, Consumers Energy recently removed its convenience fee for customers and transformed its payment experience At Chartwell’s upcoming Billing & Payment Conference in Atlanta, GA on June 6-7, Consumers Energy will provide an overview of the company’s decision to drop the convenience fee, as well as a summary of the results and customer insights gleaned from the change.