When it comes to ebill adoption, utility companies have a big challenge relating to their billing and payment programs. On one hand, the vast majority of utility customers clearly prefer to pay online. In fact, nearly 80% of utility customers across America pay their bills electronically. However, only about 25% of utility customers are solely enrolled in paperless billing (eBill) and receive no paper statements in the mail. Despite the strong preference for online payment, utility customers have not been persuaded or incented to discontinue their paper statements. Why?

There appears to be a combination of factors at work including: ease of eBilling program enrollment, customers’ fears that without paper statements they will be lacking important payment reminders, desire for record keeping and, in many cases, customers simply have not been offered a personally compelling reason to discontinue paper statements.

A lot of utility companies saw an initial wave of eBill adoption 6-7 years ago when paperless billing enrollment became a strategic focus for many utility companies. The positive environmental aspects of eBilling programs were promoted and this was a highly effective starting point. In a Forrester Research study, 48% of participates selected “it’s better for the environment” as the top reason for choosing paperless billing. In addition, many utility companies did environmental campaigns like donating $1 to the Arbor Day Foundation for each person that enrolled in eBill programs.

While appealing to environmental sensibilities was a great place to start with paperless billing initiatives, eBill enrollment has plateaued for most utility companies and it is time to move to the next level. Remember, approximately 75% of utility customers are still receiving paper statements – there is plenty of opportunity here.

The following are the suggested steps for utility companies to take to increase eBill enrollment:

  1. Analyze concrete reasons why customers are not enrolling. Is the process too difficult, complex or confusing? Are customers worried that they will forget to pay their bills? Are they concerned that they will not be able to access past statements? Do they know how/where to enroll in eBill?
  1. Make sure that your eBill program addresses the primary categories of customer concern. Allow customers to configure their own email and text payment reminders, make sure that your statement archive is easy to find and spans an acceptable period of time and make sure program enrollment is easy. The most important of those is easily the third….make enrolling easy!
  1. Effectively speak to customer concerns via a strategic communications program. Communications programs should span all possible channels including your customer service representatives, recordings within your telephone system, email, text, social media, billing statement inserts, etc. You can also take advantage of the “green” aspects of your effort via press releases that will be picked up by the media.
  1. Offer an incentive to enroll in eBill. Many customers will be ambivalent as to whether or not they receive paper statements, so you have to give them a reason to change. An incentive like a $10 gift card, from a leading grocer, restaurant or retailer when they enroll in paperless billing, is a highly effective and proven approach.

Another obvious, but often overlooked opportunity, is that the best time to enroll a customer in eBill is when they open a new account. Make sure your new account sales and customer service representatives are well equipped with a pitch that convinces customers to enroll in eBill.

The reality that nearly all utility companies are straddling electronic and paper billing and payment systems is costly. Strategic eBill programs, coupled with an effective incentive program will go a long way to once again increasing the rates of paperless billing enrollment. Our recent paper, Leading Strategies to Catapult Utility Companies’ eBill Enrollment” goes into some depth on how to build effective incentive programs to greatly increase the number of customers receiving paperless bills.