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Why eBilling has failed - and how to fix it !

B2C eBilling has failed.

In its many guises (Electronic Billing, EBPP, Paperless Billing), ebilling has been around for many years now, yet adoption rates continue to fall dismally short of expectations. The replacement of environmentally damaging paper bills with convenient electronic bills, has achieved adoption rates of around 10% to 15% across industries, despite the claimed benefits for the environment, business and consumers. 

Why is something so obvious so problematic?

What is it going to take to get consumers to engage in an electronic billing relationship that turns off paper, saves costs and improves service delivery? How do we get consumers to “Go Green”?

Globally, high-volume billers have spent millions implementing online billing portals, as an evolutionary way in which consumers and corporates can view and pay their recurring bills and invoices.  There have been very few success stories however. In the UK, almost 13 billion items of B2C paper mail items are still mailed every year at a postage cost of £1.8bn – that’s 270 million items every single week.  Clearly ebilling has not met its promises and this lack of expected results has harmed the perception of the concept for many.

What if it was not the concept that was at fault but the model?

A recent Jupiter Media report shows that over 95% of all users time spent connected to the Internet is on handling email. Email continues to be the communication medium of choice, yet most billers are focused on Internet website presentment.

Traditional online billing portals, whilst straight-forward to implement for the biller, lack the key prerequisites of simplicity and ease-of-use for the customer.  Remembering a complex, system-generated username and password, keying these in without error and then navigating through a maze of web pages to find the relevant ebill has kept would-be users of online billing away in their droves.

This model of insisting that recipients must fetch their billing data is akin to the postal service asking us to collect our letters from various warehouses around the country.

Security fears, such as Phishing and Identity Theft, are still hindering online portals. In addition, marketers are having difficulty effectively communicating the benefits to the consumer. Consumers have responded to this user unfriendly use of technology by shunning all incentives to enrol in any ebilling program.  It is evident that even offering an incentive, equivalent to the savings achieved with ebilling, is insufficient to compensate the user for the inconvenience of collecting their bill from an online portal.

As pressure to cut operational costs mounts in the growing financial turmoil, there are signs that billers are once again beginning to take the issue of electronic communication in general and ebilling in particular, seriously.  eBilling is starting to receive top-level, board-room attention.  However this time, they’re taking into account the customer's basic requirements for adopting ebilling: simplicity, ease-of-use and security.

These findings are confirmed by analysts.  In a 2008 paper entitled “Pulling The Plug On Paper Statements”, Emmett Higdon of Forrester writes:

While customers are willing to go paperless, Forrester believes they will not take the initiative to eliminate paper. Customers have had the option to turn off paper for several years now. Few do.

  • 84% of consumers still receive paper statements
  • 70% can be convinced to give up paper for electronic
  • 35% would turn off paper if eStatement printing was easy
  • 33% would turn off paper if saving it locally was easy
  • Customers have shown that they are ready to abandon paper. They just need a push.”    

There are several ways for billers to ensure that a large percentage of customers migrate to ebilling. There should be no upfront customer registration, and no need for a customer to visit a website. Customers should not require more than a dial-up connection, and should not have to remember a username and password. The ebill should look the same as the paper bill that customers are used to, and they should be able to view and pay it online in under 30 seconds, or save it and pay it later.

So, the answer is to change the model. Instead of trying to change customer behaviour, simply participate in their daily routine, by sending their ebill to their inbox.

Deliver the bill or statement as an encrypted email attachment.

Email billing has a fundamental advantage in that the biller can control the adoption rates and rollout. All that is required is the customer’s email address.

As long as you are expecting your customers to proactively do something to turn off paper, it’s simply not going to happen! Make participation easy and adoption rates will increase to the benefit of both your business and your customers.  After all, the benefits of electronic billing are significant:

  • Instant bill delivery, instead of the typical 3 – 5 day print and mail cycle;
  • Up to 80% saving on presentment and fulfilment;
  • Quicker payment and reduced DSO (Days Sales Outstanding)
  • Customer behaviour visibility through detailed email tracking
  • Lowest possible cost of payment processing
  • Fewer payment exceptions.

 eBilling can still deliver – the key is in the delivery of the bills.

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Comments: (3)

Bo Harald
Bo Harald - Transmeri, Demos, Real Time Economy Program,MyData - Helsinki Region 27 January, 2009, 21:14Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Consumer e-invoicing has been very successful in the Nordics and continue to grow very fast.

 

Michael Wright
Michael Wright - Striata | Secure Document Delivery - London 02 February, 2009, 14:01Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Yes - the Nordic countries have latched onto eBilling and eInvoicing with tremendous success. One of the reasons for this that has been put forward is that the banks were a driving force behind the process from early on.

It's interesting that other countries around the world have not been able to replicate the Nordic success - even with a successful model to follow.

In the UK, www.onevu.co.uk is working to gain the traction and mass market acceptance that would make the consolidator 'pull' model a similar success.

But the jury is still out on the push vs pull model. People are just different I guess - and each country has to find what works for them.

We've found that email billing cuts across these cultural differences as everyone tends to use and understand email all over the world.

Michael Wright
Michael Wright - Striata | Secure Document Delivery - London 02 February, 2009, 14:07Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Yes, The Nordic countries have been very successful at both eBilling and eInvoicing. One of the potential reasons is that the banks became the driving forces behind this from an early stage.

What is not clear is why this model has not been replicated in other countries ? Do you have any insights ?

The UK banking initiative (www.onevu.co.uk) is struggling to achieve the payments that it needs to justify it's costs.

What we have found is that most people will happily receive an email bill without having asked for it - whereas they will not make an effort to register for eBilling and visit the website each month.