Electronic Billing: Past, Present, Future Part I
In the beginning there were black and white paper bills delivered through the mail. The bill informed the consumer or business how much money was owed, the consumer or business wrote a check and mailed it back to the service provider. And so it was. And it was good. But time passed, new technology was born, new channels arose and the consumer was no longer content with the old ways.
OSG is quite familiar with this story since we were there at the beginning and we’ve grown and evolved with the electronic billing industry. When we first opened our doors over 20 years ago, we produced paper bills with highlight color and mailed them in plain white envelopes. The bills were delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and most everyone paid by writing out a check and mailing it back using the enclosed business reply envelope. But those days are gone. The Federal Reserve figures that the volume of bills paid by checks peaked in 1995 at 49.5 billion and has been on a steady decline ever since.1
In recent years, the electronic billing industry has grown by leaps and bounds. InfoTrends predicts that 8.6 billion bills and statements delivered to consumers in the U.S. will be paperless in 2017.2 A bill is no longer simply a transactional document that informs how much money is owed but is also a transpromotional document through which companies can communicate with their customers on a monthly basis and deliver targeted messages.
The Customer Experience
We’ve watched the eBill industry evolve from simple to complex. While there are still those consumers who want to hold a paper bill in their hands, more customers want to engage with their service providers online and on mobile devices. And, as customers have grown accustomed to transacting online, they have developed clear expectations of the type of customer experience they would like to have. Today’s electronic billing customers receive their bills and invoices through multiple channels. The paper bill is now only the beginning. There must also be an electronic version of the bill that can be transmitted through email as well as be accessible from a biller website on a laptop and through apps via smartphones and tablets. And as more customers have put away the checkbook and stamps, we must offer payment options beyond the physical check. Consumers want to be able to not only view, but also pay their bills online. They want the flexibility of being able to pay with their smartphones, their tablets, their laptops and whatever tomorrow’s newest piece of technology may be.
And, viewing and paying their bills online through multiple channels is just the tip of the iceberg. Consumers are interested in a highly personalized and interactive experience. As customers grow savvier, they expect to be able to do more at their billing sites. Making sure that customers have the functionality and flexibility to see their account history, schedule future payments, receive text message and email reminders of upcoming payments due and pay with their credit cards are all naturally expected.
Be sure to come back next week to read about corporate adoption of electronic billing.
1 Federal Reserve Payment Studies; 2The Future of Multi-channel Transactional Communications in the U.S., InfoTrends, 2013; 3Top Issues: An Annual Report, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 2013