Don't Mail it or Post it, Text it – a new world of opportunities for utilities

As mobile phone penetration approaches saturation, so does the potential for organizations to use its instant communication capabilities to engage with customers. Phone companies already realize the benefits, and here at BillingTree, Scott McCollum, President, explains how utility companies can significantly enhance their customer service while dramatically increasing efficiency levels.

"New research from Gartner shows that SMS messages will reach 2.3 trillion worldwide by the end of 2010 with North America seeing the biggest compound annual growth rate between 2006 and 2010 to 318 billion – making SMS volumes in North America the second highest worldwide.

Here’s some even more interesting figures: Jupiter Research finds consumer participation triples when you integrate mobile platforms into a marketing program; The Yankee Group says response rates on mobile are four times that on the Internet averaging 4% versus 1% for the Internet; and Airwide Solutions finds 89% of major brands are planning to market via mobile devices by 2008.

We’re seeing plenty of stories about how businesses are leveraging mobile phones for better service offerings – and one such industry that I believe could gain significantly here is the utility sector, both in terms of better customer service and bottom line benefits, if our European counterparts are anything to go by!

Utility companies across Europe, including eon, the world's largest investor-owned power and gas company, United Utilities, the UK's largest listed water company, and Vattenfall, one of Europe's leading energy companies, have leveraged the benefit of automated SMS notifications for a variety of applications, including meter reading reminders, payment reminders, updates on any planned power cuts or maintenance work that might affect energy supplies –to effectively communicate meaningful information with their end customers.

To quantify how much of an advantage the utility sector could gain, let's take an energy company's billing department, for instance, where there are compelling arguments for streamlining and automating operations. Starting with billing processes, which could be integrated into an SMS notification service, providers could not only better communicate with their customers but also save 60-90% of paper, processing and postage costs. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

SMS notifications are fast, easy, and cost effective, and can enable Utilities to provide a value-added service that allows them to better connect with their customers. Automated notifications can include Payment Reminders to encourage customers to pay on time, Payment Confirmations that let customers know payments have been received, and Cancellation Avoidance Messages to inform customers when their payments are critically past due and their service is at risk of cancellation.

By proactively contacting customers with this important information, energy providers could substantially reduce costly inbound calls and collection costs – DSOs (Days Sales Outstanding) could be cut by as much as 70 percent – recapture lost revenue, and more importantly improve overall customer satisfaction.

But more than this, Utilities can dramatically enhance customer service. They can send SMS notifications and timely reminders of planned power cuts or possible outages due to maintenance work so consumers can plan their energy usage; send meter reading reminders so that meters are read on time and correct bills are sent rather than estimates being disputed and delaying payments even more; and communicate new tariffs. In short, by taking advantage of the power of SMS, Utilities can offer a far more user-friendly customer service, to which it can significantly add value while making its billing processes far more effective."

About the author:
Scott joined BillingTree as President in 2007. Scott is active in the day-to-day operations of the company. His primary responsibilities include extending the company's reach and client base through sales direction and relationship management as well as corporate strategy development.

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