At the turn of the century, electronic billing was the new, new thing. Ten years on, it's become the norm for Internet users to receive bills via email or collect them from a website.
But email and web billing only caters for consumers with access to the Internet.
This got me thinking about the millions of consumers that don't have Internet access – how best to introduce this massive market segment to the benefits of electronic bill presentment (and payment)?
Telecommunications in third world countries
Third World countries such as those in Africa lack the most basic of infrastructure such as water, sanitation and electricity, and access to land-based telecommunications is limited. These countries have seen an exponential growth in the mobile telecommunications
In South Africa, one of the fastest growing developing countries in the world, there are more active SIM cards in circulation than there are people. This means a population with a ratio of more than one mobile phone per (economically active) capita. In stark
contrast, research shows that only 10% of the population has their own Internet account and possibly 30% have an email address.
So while email or Web billing is suitable for first world countries where access to household bandwidth is plentiful, it appears to be limited in its application to developing countries.
Does Mobile = Email ?
With the advent of smartphones, the ability to communicate via email to a broader base of individuals who traditionally would not have had access to a PC, has vastly improved.
It makes sense to send an email attachment that provides both a summary of their bill, along with detail (if required) to the customer. The customer wants quick and easy access to their billing information, so how about an email that pushes a summary of
your billing information to you, as well as enabling you to pay in one easy click? This technology is available from any device that supports email.
But not all mobile users have smartphones or email access.
Target groups at LSM 5 / 6 represent the greater mass market in most 3rd world countries. Many of these people still receive bills, yet the majority may not have an email address, or the ability to view email on their phone.
The biller still wants to cut costs with paper turn off. The target market has mobile phones, but not necessarily mobile email. Which brings me to consider the use of text messaging (SMS) or MMS for the presentation of billing information.
Text messaging and MMS – good complements to eBilling?
These mediums don't suit me personally, for several reasons: I don't see a logical way of filing my information via MMS or SMS – whether on or off my phone; It seems like a much less formal way of communicating an outstanding balance (perhaps I am a little
old fashioned); but most importantly if I want any level of detailed information or if I wish to take action i.e. pay my bill, I need to navigate elsewhere like a WAP site or USSD session.
However there are some clear advantages: the obvious is having the ability to receive a push notification without an email address. Text messaging or SMS is suitable if I require a summary of my Payment Due information and from that I'd be comfortable to
make the payment.
I know that my itemized billing information only interests me if I spot a discrepancy in my outstanding balance, but some recipients will want to view their full bill on a monthly basis which cannot be done in an SMS.
Enter the MMS. For the right brand, an MMS is funky – appealing to a specific generation who filter relevant information by viewing short snippets and having the option to view more if required.
Both the SMS and MMS channels allow these requests to be managed by exception e.g. via navigation to a WAP / mobile site for full billing information.
I believe there is a requirement to communicate digitally to people without email addresses. I also believe that SMS and MMS can and will complement email as push billing methods. That being said, the rich and interactive format of email, without having
to go online and incur a further cost to navigate to your itemized information, a one click payment from within the email and the easy filing of this information type is still first prize for me.
Let me have your thoughts....