An interesting report crossed my desk this week, passed to me by the United States Postal Service. It concerned research on the costs of delivering digital and paper bills for an American utility company, and its evidence should make sobering reading for companies who think moving everyone to digital is the way forward.
Keep Me Posted already had evidence from a Danish study that although sending a bill digitally can look like it should save money, the actual cost to the company can be higher. Far more people would ring the firm saying they hadn’t seen a bill – for instance when it had gone into their spam folder – if they received information online than if they received it on paper, and we all know that customer help-lines, due to their one-to-one nature, carry hefty costs.
The Danish firm worked out that adding call-centre costs in, along with reminders and follow ups, meant customers receiving a bill on paper cost on average almost two Euros less to handle than those on email.
The USPS study’s language was a little more colourful when it came to trying to pin down the true cost of sending bills and receiving payments through the mail versus electronically, describing it as the “wild west”!
But what the study overwhelmingly showed was that people really want their bill on paper, even if they then prefer to pay it online. The company researched - a major gas and electricity supplier with more than 3 million customers known as “Utility East” - also looked at its newer customers, assumed to be younger and thereby more digital savvy, and found 89% of them still opted for a paper bill, very close to its overall customer base, where the score was 91%.
Although Keep Me Posted knows that there many people who can’t, or choose not to, use the internet, this didn’t apply to many of Utility East’s customers, since 63% chose to pay online, creating a digital profile in order to do so.
But one thing for all companies to keep in mind is the customer service factor. The study’s authors say that “while cost reduction is important, good customer experience usually trumps the use of negative incentives like charging customers for paper versions of their bills”. They found 43% of customers had a higher level of satisfaction with companies that offered multiple delivery and payment options.
Choice = customer satisfaction! Let’s hope those companies who pride themselves on customer service are listening.
Judith Donovan, Chair, Keep Me Posted