Transforming Customer Service for Utilities Providers: Proactive Strategies to Manage On-time Service Disconnect Notices and Payments

Dealing with late payors and service disconnect accounts is an everyday concern for most utility companies. Your call center is often the front line for handling these delicate customer interactions. In addition to the bottom-line financial impact, these situations also impact both your call center traffic and the customer experience. This article aims to explore this challenge and propose two proactive and timely strategies to manage these, thereby enhancing customer service in the utilities sector.

The Challenge of Service Disconnect Notices

Notices sent to customers of their service disconnection for non-payment are not just stressful for the affected customers, they are a challenge for the utility providers as well. Often, they end up driving a chain of events in which customer satisfaction plummets, call center agent morale suffers, and the utility’s reputation is damaged. This is because disconnect notices often lead to a surge in incoming calls from concerned customers. For such customers, who may feel both a sense of urgency and panic, a poor experience interacting with an unempathetic utility agent can damage the utility’s customer satisfaction levels. The monthly spike in call volume can also drive increased wait times for ALL customers attempting to get through for any reason, impact call handling, and place demands on call center management for increased staffing. For utility agents, facing a deluge of agitated callers, the need to display empathy can fade and agent morale can suffer. Fortunately, there are proactive steps that utilities can consider that offer redress for the recurring challenges posed by non-payments and disconnect notices.

Proactive Notification as a Solution

Proactive communication is key to reducing the fallout from service disconnect notices. Customers miss payments for a variety of reasons ranging from simple forgetfulness to inability to pay. Using a multi-channel communication approach, utilities can remind customers about payments due, raise awareness of any payment plans you offer, and warn of pending service disconnections before these situations reach a boiling point. Studies show that customers appreciate receiving a respectful payment reminder. By using a multichannel messaging approach, you can be assured that you are reaching all your customer demographics. Automated voice messages bring a more personal touch in a medium that many customers are comfortable with. Text messaging offers quick, convenient alerts that also have a very high response rate. Email communications offer the ability to share more detailed alerts and options. A proactive strategy of keeping customers informed about their account status will not only help reduce your volume of non-payment and service disconnect calls, it also demonstrates a commitment to customer care and can enhance customer loyalty and trust.

Reducing Payment Friction

Making your payment process as effortless as possible is the second key to reducing non-payments and service disconnects. When payment options are hard to follow or inconvenient, they are barriers to timely bill payment. By appealing to all your customer demographics with user-friendly and multi-channel payment options you can reduce the volume of customers who put-off making payments. An IVR Payment option appeals to customers who prefer to pay by phone and diverts this payment traffic from your call center. Payment links that can be proactively sent by Text, email or embedded in electronic invoices offer customers an easy, convenient and timely online payment process. By leveraging today’s payment technologies, making your customer’s experience positive and reducing payment friction is both achievable and key for your success.

Success Stories

Consider these results achieved by one utility company in the Midwest. Last year they began proactively sending customers payment reminders close to the due date as well as account status alerts by text message. on the day before that the service disconnect was triggered. The reminders included links to multiple payment channels, which included both a payment link and an IVR payment phone number, making it very easy for customer to bring their account up to date. Within the first three months this utility saw both a decrease in late payments and a drastic decrease in service disconnect related call volume in their call center. Agents were also equipped with real-time payment links that could be sent to customers who were calling about their service disconnect, further reducing wait time for customers during peak hours.

In a second case, a Gulf state utility added an IVR payment option to address the payment preferences of the large community of senior citizens they served. During the course of its first year of operation, they observed an increasing trend towards reductions to their call center hold time and in their volume of late payers.

These examples illustrate how reducing payment friction and initiating proactive customer outreach have impacted payments and customer experience and are typical of the stories that we hear from merchants regularly.

Moving Forward

Managing non-payments and service disconnect accounts does not need to be chaotic or stressful. By adopting strategies that prioritize customer communication and simplify the payment experience, utilities can both improve their operational efficiency and build stronger relationships with their customers. As consumer expectations continue to grow, these practices will become essential standards for maintaining your success in the marketplace.

We’re Here to Help

What our clients are saying about us

“Never any issues with you guys! Things just work.”

Gerry Henstra, CEO, Henstra Business Solutions

“Customer service is a really big deal to us, and I am glad to do business with a company that obviously takes it as seriously as we do.”

Jeff Boatman, Global Client Solutions

“We’re happy with the IVR Payment system and it has been working well for us. Recently we also setup your newest SMS (text) receipts and found it to work great.”

IT Manager

“I want to command you and your team at Datatel on the job just completed for Tele-Response Center. The attention to detail and professionalism with which you approached the project was exemplary and greatly appreciated especially considering the several applications that needed to be implemented on short notice. Thanks again for your assistance getting this project off the ground so smoothly.”

Joe Grossman, Sr. Vice President, 121 Direct Response

“My team and I would like to commend Datatel on creating an IVR application that adds great value to our new Travel product. Your knowledge, input and expertise in IVR scripting, call flow management and overall IVR logistics made the development and implementation stages extremely easy to manage. Thank you for a well executed campaign that was launched on time and on budget.”

Ryan McCullough, Marketing Manager, Aegon Direct

“Great team to work with. I look forward to utilizing some additional capabilities in the future.”

Bob Griffin, VP of Operations, MedA/Rx

“We are very grateful for many years of mutually beneficial business relationship with Datatel and for impeccable customer service we have received during these years.”

Director of Student Accounts

“We, Standard Life, very much appreciated Datatel’s expertise, knowledge and support as we worked through the development and implementation stages. Our Clients appreciate the simplicity of the capability, while gathering very valuable feedback. Thanks for making this a very positive experience.”

Anne Pennell, VP, Customer Services Operations, Standard Life

“This was one of the best implementations I have been a part of. The communication was excellent and everything was responded to and dealt with swiftly. A real pleasure. We are looking forward to the impact this will have on our patient payments! Thank you!”

Kim Pace, Director Patient Accounts and Revenue, Chatham-Kent Health Alliance