The ability to make payments safely and from a distance has topped many consumers’ list of “must-haves” during the COVID-19 pandemic—and will continue to do so long after the crisis is over. Utility customers are no exception to this rule, making it more important than ever for utility companies to implement solutions that support easy, secure remote payments.
Interactive voice response (IVR) systems
Interactive voice response systems allow utility customers to pay their bills by telephone, any day of the week, any time of day, and on any day of the year, without operator intervention. Consumers can use a variety of payment methods, including credit cards, debit cards, and electronic checks, completing their payments simply by following a series of voice prompts and instructions.
Interactive voice systems are a good option even for utility companies that offer online payment tools and other ways for customers to handle their bills from afar. The reason: While they may be willing to give up check-based payments along with in-person visits to pay for utilities, some people just are not comfortable with the electronic payments route.
Recurring payment systems
To take advantage of recurring payment systems, consumers register a credit or debit card with their utility company. Payments are then charged to or debited from the designated account on the same day each month.
Recurring payment systems make it especially easy for utility companies’ customers to remit payments from a distance because they eliminate the need to remember to pay bills. However, they up the ante on this front by automatically notifying consumers when the designated credit or debit card is nearing its expiration date. Reminders are received in ample time to register a new credit or debit card number.
Consumer-facing web payment systems
Consumer-facing web payment systems are just that—systems consumers can leverage to pay for utility usage on utility companies’ websites. Some utility providers have rolled out solutions that enable them to link their websites to a host payment site. In certain cases, the host payment site is customized to match the unique design of utility companies’ own website—an option that has the potential to improve consumers’ comfort level when it comes to making payments online.
Mobile and text-based payment systems
With mobile payment systems, customers pay their utility bills from a smartphone or tablet. Like those handled using IVR systems, payments made in this manner can happen anytime and from a distance—anywhere the consumer happens to be. Some systems are configured so that customers need not make a telephone call or look through paper bills to find out what they owe their utility company. Instead, they receive an emailed invoice. Opening the invoice instantly and automatically directs them to the utility company’s mobile payment site or app, where they can enter their payment information or use stored details from previous payment attempts to finish the transaction.
Meanwhile, when utility providers implement a text-based (Short Messaging System, or SMS-based) solution, customers register to “pay by text” and provide their bank account information. The information is stored in a secure system maintained by utility companies’ payment solutions provider. The signup process sometimes includes a step where customers create a personalized PIN.
A text reminder lets consumers know that a utility bill is due. Customers then make a payment via return text, using their PIN number if they have one.
Making utility payments from a distance can be an easy process for all consumers, providing that utility companies’ infrastructure includes the right technology tools.
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