Interactive Bill Presentation and Payment
Your collector reaches a delinquent debtor by phone and gets a promise to pay. Will that promise be kept? Maybe yes, maybe no. Wouldn't be infinitely better if the collector had some way of generating that payment while the debtor was still on the phone?
Consolidated Edison (New York, N.Y.) moved a big step toward this goal when it began working with IntelliCheck, a third-party provider. Under this program, a customer service rep can bring up an application form on the computer screen while talking with a customer, get the customer's account number, ABA (American Banking Association) number, checking account information, and determine how much the customer wants to pay at that time.
"Once we have this information, we can arrange an ACH (Automated Clearing House) transaction," says Jim O'Brien, manager of Support Services, Customer Operations.
Initially, though, many of the customer service reps were not completely comfortable with asking customers for payment authorizations over the phone. "The department manager, George Roach, was very instrumental in encourage the reps to pursue this opportunity," notes O'Brien. "As this took place, we began to see more and more payments coming in. To date, the program has been working very well for us."
With the success of the program obvious, management at Con Edison came up with another idea: Why not allow all customers to make payments via phone if they wished? "This would eliminate the need for these customers to make payments by mail," he notes. Con Edison again worked with the IntelliCheck and its own internal experts to expand the payment application process.
The next logical step was to take advantage of Internet technology. "We began exploring this avenue in 1997," he says. "We had a Con Edison Web site already in place, so we added another feature allowing customers to handle their billing through the Web site. We saw this as a way to build customer empowerment."
In this Web site, customers can transact a number of types of business, including:
Payments. Customer can view a screen that tells them how much their bills are, and then can authorize payment.
Histories. Customers can also view past bills, as well as their past payments.
Inquiries. Another option allows customers to make electronic inquiries of Con Edison, rather than having to place phone calls to customer service reps. "They can question bills that seem to be high, report name changes, and so on," reports O'Brien. (He reports that the utility currently receives an average of about 20 of these inquiries a day.)
Account closing. Customers can also arrange to close their accounts via the Internet. "The screen prompts them to report the reading on their meter," explains O'Brien. Since the utility has historical data on average usage for the customer's location, it can determine if the reported reading falls within certain range limits. If so, it accepts the reading as accurate. "If not, we ask the customer to recheck the reading," he states. The customer can then be billed via the Internet and make a final payment.
In the future, O'Brien sees additional opportunities for Internet access. Some possibilities include allowing customers to:
- sign up for Òlevel billing,
- complete their applications for service turn-on, and
- sign up for a direct payment plan.
Third Party Service.
Con Edison has also recently begun to work with a third-party bill consolidating called TransPoint. Under this arrangement, customers are able to go to the TransPoint Web site to view their Con Edison bills, as well as any other companies they owe payments to, such as retailers, telephone, cable, and so on, as long as these companies are also working with TransPoint.
"Companies who participate in this plan send their bills electronically to TransPoint," reports O'Brien. "This provides 'one-stop shopping' and payment opportunities for our customers." Within the first two months of this program, approximately 200 Con Edison customers have already enrolled.
Con Edison now receives about 72,000 payments a month via phone or Internet. Breakdowns are:
- 43,000 telephone payments ($10 million)
- 2,400 Internet payments ($500,000)
- 27,500 Internet payments via voice unit (VRU) ($5 million).
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Credit & Collection Manager's Letter.