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Utility Billing Support: 5 Things Learned from Thousands of Calls


As the utility billing support provider for our full-service customers in dozens of local utility providers, we've seen some things. Anything from the monotony of taking bill pay questions all the way to complex remote research for customers with negative or abnormal readings.

As our friends at Farmers Insurance say "We know a thing or two because we've seen a thing or two."

But after talking to so many people about utility bills and creating countless support tickets, we understand there are five things to know about utility billing support specifically for the utilities to provide cost effective and excellent customer service for your neighbors.

Customer Experience is Key

It is no surprise that customer experience is what makes or breaks companies of any type. Think about the last time you went to a restaurant and had bad service or called in to a help line and waited on hold for hours. Did you reach back out to them with help of any kind? 

All it takes is one unpleasant experience to taint an entire brand, and utilities are no different.

In fact, 54% of customers have higher expectations for customer service today compared to just one year ago. This percentage jumps to 66% for consumers aged from 18 to 34 years old. <Microsoft>

And it is not only the expectation of better customer service over a phone. For more complicated interactions, such as payment disputes, 40% of customers prefer talking to a real person over the phone. 23% of consumers seek out a face-to-face interaction for complicated customer service issues like troubleshooting. <American Express>

So where does that leave utilities? Focusing on customer experience for interactions is going to no longer be a secondary need, but a primary focus to keep your organization running smoothly. 

Ensuring your customers can only call once, not wait for a long time on the phone or in the office and leave resolved and happy will be the key to efficient and cost preventative measures.

Personalized Service Takes Time, Energy, and Dedication

In the next ten years, personalized service is going to be necessary for utility operators, but how do you create a world where your customer service staff understands the problems of the customer before they even call in?

Here’s the bad news. Before investing in software or service, go ahead and commit to the long game. 

Personalized service does not happen overnight. It takes serious determination and process definition to set up the stellar customer support that customers will expect. 

Why should you take the time to do it? We have seen that utility entities that commit to long term dedicated customer service end up with happier customers, less support calls, and even more on time bill payments.

But where do you even start? Set up meetings to discuss the user journey through your billing systems. What happens when your customers call in with a connect/disconnect? Is there a more efficient way that creates less friction for the consumer? What activities can shift to online or self-serve through a customer portal? How many steps does it take to get through your phone tree? What would you think if you were on the end of that?

Those questions and the relentless pursuit of efficiency for the consumer are crucial for success. It takes an entire organizational shift to get that kind of change, so go ahead and think about the long game if you want to do it on your own.

After you have that, there is one key component that we have found makes customer support the easiest it’s even been.

Integrated Systems Are Non-Negotiable

When people interact with any brand from Nike to their water utilities, they expect a seamless interaction with customer service representatives who know them and their issues before they even speak a word.

In fact, from a recent pole from NIC, 9 in 10 consumers want absolute omnichannel service – they expect a seamless experience when moving from one communication method to another, such as phone to text or chat to phone. NICE inContact

So how do you create opportunities to delight?

The secret lies in an integrated system of record. One system that holds all the data from a single customer where you can see utility information such as any open service orders, latest meter readings, last bill statements, and any other data point your customers may need.

Having a single place for data isn’t the only vital aspect of your utility billing support. Having software that also allows your customer support team to quickly find records through easy and partial search is vitally important. When people call you need to not only have all their data but have it quickly available to do the best work you can do. 

But what if you could solve the customers problem so efficiently that they don’t even need to call your customer support team for the basic issues. 

Customer Portals are a Lifesaver

Sometimes the best support call is the one you never receive. Most of the customer interaction takes place online. In fact, 90% of consumers expect an online portal for customer service. Microsoft When you combine that with a recent report by Aspect Software that indicates 73% of customers want to solve product or service issues on their own Aspect Software and that 70% of customers expect a company’s website to include a self-service application Steven Van Belleghem, well it just makes sense. 

Simply put…. people want to handle things on their own and how they want to handle them, and a good custom portal should allow the user to pay bills any way they want, from mailed checks to e Bills to pay by picture. 

But shouldn’t a customer portal be able to do more? Can they be like a utility billing support representative that is always available 24/7 when your customers need them?

Customer portals should allow for those people to get a glimpse into the details of the data that makes your utility run. 

It’s not that farfetched to think that a software can handle these things and more importantly, make sense financially. 

Good Customer Service Pays for Itself

 Depending on the complexity of your utility billing entity, you could have a utility billing support team of one of a support team of one hundred. Either way, you typically must allocate someone on your staff that is dedicated to ensuring that your customers are happy and can answer any questions or problems they may have. 

Have you thought recently about their time and efficiency? How much of their time is spent on the phone:

  • Answering the same customer queries all day.
  • Connecting service
  • Disconnecting service 
  • Scheduling support calls  
  • Taking payments

Shouldn’t that person be focusing on the things that will make a difference? Can they use their time more efficiently? Can you reallocate the customer support talent to doing more important tasks for your business, such as handling the more difficult support cases? 

Even more importantly, can they feel like they’re making a difference with their day-to-day work rather than trudging through the monotony of the same calls day after day? 

Focusing on proactive customer service is a fantastic way to reduce the overhead cost of utility billing support primarily by increasing the efficiency of your customer service team. 

By focusing on a great frictionless customer experience, you also increase your odds that payments come on time and complete from your customers. When you make things easy for the consumer, they respond by taking the actions you want them to take. 

This feels like a lot to manage...

It is! Focusing on customer support is difficult. In fact, there is an entire subsect of our business that is focused solely on helping utility entities handle utility billing support. 

However, we have seen repeatedly that focusing on great customer service is key for not only the happiness of your customers, but also the happiness of your employees. When you get them focusing on the things that are most important to them, it makes coming into work that much more exciting. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how we might be able to help your utility billing support staff handle their requests better, please reach out with the link below to learn how full service can make a difference in your business.