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When it comes to eBilling, are you just ticking the box?

As I travel around Asia talking to companies about eBilling and looking at what eBilling solutions have already been implemented, it strikes me that the whole eBilling business is mired in misleading projections and statistics, and in many cases, apathy. Surely this is a key reason why so few people actually utilize eBilling, and why so few companies actually save money when implementing it. "In what ways?" I hear you ask! Well, I'll explain…

Let's start off with what the end-customer – the recipient – is told. Generally, eBilling is sold to the end-customer as being environmentally friendly. In Asia we have GreenBills, GreenPost and other such names for electronic bills and statements, yet we know that the real reason companies implement eBilling is cost-saving. I'm not suggesting that we stop pushing the environmental aspect, but let's be honest, it's efficiency that's driving the change too.

Convenience and ease of use drives customer adoption

People appreciate efficiency, and if that efficiency actually contributes to the customer experience; the ease of receiving, opening, filing, printing (if necessary) and paying the eBill, it's going to be popular. But dressing up an inconvenient, time-consuming "log in to our portal and search for this month's bill" solution, as an environmental initiative isn't going to work for any except the greenest of customers – the rest will stick with paper, thank you very much!

eBilling portals don't drive paper turn-off – email billing does

How about the eBilling portals themselves – both corporate and consolidator portals? Just how many customers have signed up for the service? Or more importantly, how many paper bills have been turned-off? You could argue that this is commercially sensitive information and can't be divulged, but is that really the case? Contrary to this, I can quote 68% paper turn-off for a bank in South Africa, or 12% turn-off in 10 months for a utility in North America - and many other organizations that will gladly tell the world how eBilling has helped them realize their paper turn off targets. Occasionally analyst reports come out with figures that show average eBill portal adoption rates of 2-3% per year, which maybe explains why some don't quote hard figures…

Choose an eBilling solution that works for you and your customers

And finally there is internal reporting and target-setting within the companies themselves. I've spoken with consultants working on a government eBilling initiative with a target of 5% paper turn-off in 3 years. Another example is a major utility that was looking for 2-3% paper turn-off per year. These are figures that they're hoping for – not necessarily figures that they'll reach! Hey, some people are probably getting bonuses for achieving adoption rates that would result in us having strong words with our paperless adoption consultants!

CFO's are being misled into believing that 2% or 3% adoption is good and all that can be expected, even though the business case just won't add up with figures like that. Why would they do this? I think it's partly due to my last observation: apathy.

In many cases, it seems that eBilling is implemented because "everyone else" is doing it, and it's more a case of ticking the box rather than actually trying to make it work commercially. Once the solution is implemented, it's often left to stagnate. Adoption is rarely the responsibility of one person – it's more likely a small part of the Marketing department's remit and so the savings never accrue. There's a hope that there will be a return on the investment, but not really an expectation.

What can be done about this?

• Doing some proper research on eBilling before deciding on what solution to implement is a good start.
• Establish what paper turn-off rates can be expected.
• Understand what has worked well in similar companies or what you need to do differently to be successful.
• Set tough but achievable adoption targets and make someone responsible for hitting them.
• Look to provide an eBilling service that your end-customers will want to use, not feel forced to use.
• Don't play at eBilling – work at it!


Comments: (4)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 23 April, 2012, 15:52Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Perhaps billers continue to beat the 'Go Green' dead horse while promoting eBilling adoption because the alternative - the truth that it saves costs for them - bears the risk that astute consumers will demand an incentive for paper turnoff! Wells Fargo's recent sweepstakes for online-portal-only statements is latest evidence of this practice. So far, Tata DoCoMo is the only biller I've come across that offers 1% discount on Year 1 charges for enrolling for eBills. I'm sure their paper turnoff campaign will enjoy better conversion than all their competitors'.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 09 May, 2012, 05:25Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Thanks for the comment, Ketharaman. 

It just seems a shame that billers have to "pay" their customers to use a service that should be more convenient and add value to them.  I still believe (and our client's adoption figures back it up) that the "right" eBill solution supported by the "right" adoption strategies will be more effective and save more money than discounting bills.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 09 May, 2012, 19:18Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I'd let the customers decide whether eBilling / eStatementing is more convenient and adds value to them.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 10 May, 2012, 03:11Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

We certainly do!  And with paper turn-off rates of 70% at Wesbank, 60% at Multichoice (CableTV provider) and 12% in just 10 months at CoT Utilities, our clients' customers are making that decision - in droves!  With not a discount in sight...

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