It can be hard to believe that there are still customers left to enroll in paperless billing. After all, with the tremendous growth of electronic billing, automatic payments, mobile apps and digital currency, most customers now prefer a paperless way of paying utilities.

However, some customers remain reluctant to adopt paperless utility bills. Habits can be hard to break — and many customers are accustomed to receiving a paper bill in the mail. Energy utilities are faced with the challenge of converting resistant customers who may not realize the many benefits of going paperless.

“When I think of who is left to enroll in paperless billing, two categories of customers come to mind,” says Melissa Thom, Brand Engagement Lead at Idaho Power. “One group is those who don’t regularly engage with us and haven’t considered whether we have a paperless option or not. The other group is older generations who have a set routine for paying their bills, and that usually involves paper.”

For utilities, developing a plan of action to encourage these customers to enroll in e-billing programs and finally go paperless can make all the difference.

Prioritize Proactive Outreach to Utility Customers

The latest research finds that customers spend only eight minutes per year interacting online with their utility, and only six minutes per year thinking about their energy bill. According to Thom, encouraging a paperless way of paying utilities starts with proactive outreach and ongoing digital communications.

“If customers are not thinking about Idaho Power, they’re also not actively looking at ways to enroll in our programs,” Thom says. “That’s why we do proactive outreach on programs like paperless billing, auto pay and budget pay for customers who haven’t needed to think about us in a while.”

To boost program enrollments, Idaho Power recently revamped its My Account portal. When customers log in, they now see a list of programs with either a red “X” or green check mark by each one. This indicates whether or not they have enrolled in the programs.

“On a behavioral level, we think customers will want to see all green check marks, pushing them to enroll in paperless billing and other programs,” Thom explains. “This also makes the enrollment process much easier since they are already logged into their account.”

Example of animated gif from a popup ad promoting paperless way of paying utilities

My Account pop-up ads are another marketing tactic that has been effective for Idaho Power. The pop-up ads highlight the benefits of paperless utility bills, including more convenience and greater security. When customers click on an ad, it will take them directly to the paperless billing enrollment page.

Educate Customers on the Benefits of Paperless Utility Bills

It’s important to explain the benefits of e-billing, including faster payments, easier access to online payment options, and reducing clutter in customers’ homes. These benefits should be presented clearly and concisely in email campaigns, website landing pages and other communications.

One of the biggest benefits of paperless utility bills is the ability to pay anytime and anywhere. An e-bill marketing campaign from a Pennsylvania-based energy utility focused on how e-bill was a must-have for summertime. Customers have the opportunity to pay their bill “from across the nation to around the world.”

Example of email promoting paperless way of paying utilities with benefits

Feedback from customers who have resisted a paperless way of paying utilities can also be useful. Utility marketers should identify the common objections or concerns customers have about paperless billing and address them in future marketing campaigns.

For example, many customers have concerns about the security and privacy of their personal information when making digital payments. Ease customer concerns by emphasizing how they can access their bills through secure portals, reducing the risk of personal information being compromised in the mail. In addition, encryption technology adds extra security measures to protect customer information.

Discover the Impact of e-Bill Incentives

Offering incentives can be the push that resistant customers need to make the switch. This might include discounts on monthly bills, cash back or small rewards like $5 Amazon gift cards.

There is no one-size-fits-all incentive that works across all utilities. For example, in a city with a large percentage of sports fans, customers may be motivated by the offer of tickets to the big game. Cities with a focus on the great outdoors may be motivated by environmentally minded giveaways like energy-efficient appliances.

PSEG Long Island took advantage of various incentives to encourage a paperless way of paying utilities, including a chance for 10 winners to receive $1,000 each. The utility also tried smaller incentives like free LED light bulbs.

Example of email promoting paperless way of paying utilities with incentive

Through testing of numerous incentives, PSEG Long Island identified what worked best for their target audience and successfully increased paperless billing enrollment by 51,000 customers. The energy utility discovered that tangible, guaranteed incentives drove greater engagement.

Idaho Power utilized a sweepstakes to encourage customers to enroll in paperless utility bills. Customers who enrolled in paperless billing were automatically entered into a drawing to win an iPad Mini. According to Thom, it made sense to offer a digital prize for a campaign encouraging customers to switch from paper to digital bills.

Example of animated gif promoting paperless utility bills enrollment incentive

During the sweepstakes, 38,000 customers logged into My Account and were shown the pop-up ad. With a click-through rate of 3%, around 1,100 customers clicked through to the paperless billing enrollment page.

Make the Paperless Enrollment Process Easy

Oftentimes, a complicated enrollment process is the main barrier preventing customers from signing up for paperless utility bills. Providing simple and straightforward instructions can go a long way in encouraging customers to switch.

Make enrollment easy by reducing the number of steps needed and providing multiple ways to enroll, including online, through the utility mobile app and via text message. The more clicks involved in enrollment, the more likely customers will navigate away from the page out of frustration.

A fast enrollment process was the focus of this email from a large Northeast energy utility. With just a few clicks, customers could go paperless in seconds.

Example of email promoting paperless way of paying utilities with simple enrollment

Utilities should also provide paperless sign-up directly through their mobile app. Customers who download the app are more likely to be tech-savvy and prefer a paperless way of paying utilities. This is also an ideal channel to promote the benefits of paperless billing.

“We promote a lot of programs together, like paperless billing, auto pay and the mobile app, because we think if customers enroll in one, they are likely to enroll in another,” Thom says. “If they’re engaged in My Account or the mobile app, it’s much more convenient for them to enroll in paperless billing.”

Reach the Next Generation with e-Bill Promotions

Every day, younger generations are becoming the next wave of utility customers. While Gen Z are more likely to show interest in paperless utility bills, they aren’t keen on paying with traditional methods like debit cards and online banking.

Gen Z customers prefer paying with new money management tools like apps and digital wallets. Research also finds that less than 50% of Gen Z customers have traditional bank accounts. In the coming years, energy utilities will need to think about how paperless billing will evolve to meet Gen Z’s preferences.

Idaho Power will soon be expanding its payment options, as a growing number of customers prefer paying with mobile payment services like Apple Pay.

“We will soon have more digital payment options, including Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal in the very near future,” Thom says. “If a customer loves using Google Pay anywhere they go, they should be able to pay their energy bill in the same way. We have to constantly be thinking about the preferences of younger generations.”

Reach Remaining Customers with Paperless Ways of Paying Utilities

For energy utilities, there will always be customers to enroll in paperless utility bills, whether brand-new customers or those finally ready to make a change. According to one study, three in four adults across all ages would likely switch at least one bill to paperless. In fact, 87% of millennials were likely to pay at least one bill digitally.

“I look at paperless billing two-fold,” Thom says. “If most of our customers know that it’s an option for them, I’m happy. I’m never going to force any customers into the program. I just want them to know their options — that’s the awareness side of marketing paperless billing. Then there’s the conversion side — sometimes all customers need is an extra little push to make the switch.”

Enroll more customers to receive paperless utility bills with Questline Digital’s proven marketing solutions.

Rate plan education is an essential part of reaching sustainability initiatives. Utilities that promote rate plan options, improve self-service tools and use messaging that resonates with target audiences can improve customer satisfaction, even during this time of change.

By offering plans that suit their customers’ needs and incentivize energy conservation, and educating customers about those rate plans, utilities can build stronger customer relationships and contribute to a more resilient energy future.

Our recent webinar, “Educating Customers About Rate Plans,” shared insights and strategies from Questline Digital’s Elizabeth Van Horn and Fayetteville Public Works Commission’s Lamont Hinson. They explored how to communicate rate plan information and engage customers in the decision-making process. Plus, Hinson shared real-world experience from Fayetteville PWC’s rate plan promotions.

Keeping Up with Evolving Rate Plans

We have all seen a growing number of rate plan options introduced in the last few years, thanks to the capabilities of AMI and the increasing need to manage demand. This has resulted in a multitude of different types of energy rate structures. While we know the importance of these rate options in making the grid more resilient and greener, the variety of plans can be extremely confusing for customers.

In fact, data from a Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative survey, Rate Design: What Do Consumers Want and Need, reported that nearly half of residential customers don’t know what type of rate plan they have.

The study found that 64% of those customers are most aware of flat rate plans with 36% being aware of time-of-use rate plans. For business customers, 76% were most likely to be aware of flat rate plans and 52% were aware of TOU plans.

“The EIA reports that 63% of U.S. customers have a time-of-use rate plan available to them, but only 7.3% are actually enrolled,” says Elizabeth Van Horn, Account Supervisor for Questline Digital. “There are clearly some missed opportunities right in front of us. Most customers aren’t enrolled in a time-of-use plan, even if they have one available to them. And business customers want alternative rate plans, but don’t know about them. So, awareness and education are lacking among both of these groups.

While there are areas of improvement for customer education, the positive news is that customers do, in fact, want alternative rate plans. The data shows that while more than half of residential consumersare interested in trying one of them, business customers overwhelmingly prefer alternative rate plans.

Knowing that customers want these plans, it’s important to further understand what influences their decisions in enrolling, including:

  • The opportunity to save money
  • Environmental impacts
  • Taking control of energy use

“From what we’ve seen, saving money and customers being able to be in control of their energy use are most likely to hit home. So, leading with those types of messages, especially in the current state of inflation and the rising costs everywhere, is important,” says Van Horn. “Anytime we can preach the message to save money, it’s huge. We also know that customers don’t like not knowing what their energy usage is or how to handle it, so giving them the option to feel like they’re in control is pretty powerful for them.”

Strategies for Increasing Rate Plan Enrollment

When educating customers about rate plans, it’s imperative to explain the ”why” and “what” of rate plans, share the benefits of changing their energy behavior, and provide a rate calculator for customers to use to see firsthand how their energy costs would change on different plans.

“Knowing that customers want alternative rate plans, how do we increase enrollment? Well, there’s a few strategies that we can put into place,” says Van Horn. “First, we need to educate, educate, and educate. Customers don’t know what they don’t know. They’ve been paying for electricity the same way for 140 years. Even though customers are aware that alternative rate plans exist, don’t assume that they know how their rates work or how monthly bills will be affected. A foundation of basic education is needed for customers to make informed decisions.”

Additional strategies for boosting rate plan enrollment include:

  • Answer FAQs upfront in ongoing communications
  • Segment communications and focus on increasing awareness among certain demographic segments
  • Promote the many benefits of alternative rate plans
  • Show, don’t just tell with personalized customer communications
  • Incentivize customers

It’s important to remember that education needs to happen in as many channels and platforms as possible. Customers like to learn in different ways, so you need to make sure you’re offering education in the ways that your customers prefer, including on social media, direct mail, text alerts and more.

Additionally, educating customers about rate plans shouldn’t end after a customer enrolls. You want to make sure that customers understand their new rate plan, that they are benefiting from it, and that you’re there for them if they have questions. This is where your utility’s role as their trusted energy advisor really shines.

Take advantage of the opportunity to send real-time feedback to them. This might include implementing an onboarding campaign that sends a series of nurture emails over the first month that educates customers about the new rate (including usage information).

Following this onboarding period, continue the regular communications with a monthly newsletter segmented for customers on each rate plan. You can include seasonal tips and advice to make sure they understand the plan and continue to benefit throughout the year.

Your customers will appreciate knowing that you’re still there for them, walking them through these plans, even after they’ve made the switch.

Fayetteville PWC: A Rate Plan Success Story

Hinson shared that in 2018, Fayetteville PWC began strategizing its rate plan communications ahead of its time-of-use introduction to customers in 2019.

The utility was adopting time-of-use rates to better align the rates the utility charges with the costs that they pay for electricity. Knowing that they had a full year to communicate the changes to customers, Fayetteville PWC began strategizing its promotions and communicating on multiple platforms, including:

  • Newsletter and email campaigns
  • Social media
  • Community events
  • PWC Connections TV
  • Monthly advertising

The utility used handouts, their website, videos and even a magnet customers could take home to communicate about time-of-use rates. Additionally, they leveraged a variety of community outreach efforts to meet customers in-person to answer questions and get feedback about the changes.

“We didn’t want to stay behind a desk or at a keyboard sending out our messages or just sending out mailers. We knew we had to have boots to the ground,” says Hinson. “So, with the events that we lined up in the community, we used those outreach efforts to also educate, take on questions and get information. We took advantage of those opportunities.”

To assist with the utility’s communications, Fayetteville PWC rolled out various supporting resources throughout the year, including:

  • Online rate calculator, supplied August 2018
  • Hourly usage on new web portal, supplied October 2018
  • Thermostat incentive/engagement programs, supplied November 2018
  • Web portal (Phase 2) rate comparison, supplied March 2019
  • New bill design with TOU, supplied Spring 2019
  • Customer newsletter/email campaign, supplied Spring 2019
  • Conservation calendar, supplied 2019 – Present

Fayetteville PWC also used targeted messaging to reach customers who were EV owners or potential adopters about TOU benefits. The utility used analytics to identify residential customers who have a propensity for EV adoption and sent direct communications to them. Additionally, the utility connected with EV clubs and car dealerships and communicated the rate information through channels like social media, targeted email blasts and a newsletter.

“Keep it simple. Try to keep it as simple as possible,” says Hinson. “We try to break down those ‘journalistic W’s’ so explaining what’s happening, why it’s happening, when it’s happening and, as mentioned, the impact — how the customer could potentially benefit from it.”

In strategizing their communications, Fayetteville PWC’s goals were to educate, increase public engagement and perform targeted outreach. The utility achieved success by beginning its communications early to develop that trust and loyalty among customers, as well as connecting with customers in a variety of formats.

“For us, in order to really see if we have hit our goal, you want to know if your customers have actually received the education, if they understand it. When they’re out amongst their friends or family, they can explain it. That kind of lets you know that they get it,” says Hinson. “You can’t stay locked up in an office and really think that you have an understanding of your customer base. And with targeted outreach — things sometimes can’t just be you sending out the whole net, sometimes you have to target specific accounts, specific customers in order to reach your goal of communicating the message.”

10 Key Steps to Educating Customers About Rate Plans

The advice shared by the experts during this webinar included 10 key ways that utilities can communicate with customers and drive enrollment in new energy rate plans:

  1. Many customers are not aware of the rate plan options available to them. Continuous education is needed.
  2. Customers want alternative rate plans, especially business customers.
  3. Saving money and gaining control of energy usage are powerful motivators for customers. Focus messaging on these benefits.
  4. Use targeted messaging for different customer segments. For example, consider early adopters, millennials, low-income, and EV owners.
  5. Provide resources like a rate calculator to help customers understand how plans will impact them.
  6. Answer common questions upfront in communications. Think about what customers want to know and address those.
  7. Use incentives like bill credits to drive enrollment.
  8. Continue communication after a customer enrolls to ensure they understand the new plan. Provide feedback on their usage and ways to optimize savings.
  9. Meet customers where they are by using a multichannel approach. Use the channels they prefer like email, social, direct mail, etc.
  10. Evaluate the success and impact of communication efforts. Look at enrollment numbers, event feedback and surveys. Make adjustments as needed.

Learn how Questline Digital can help your utility educate customers about new rate plans.

Alternative rate plans are becoming commonplace as energy utilities make efforts to improve grid stability and reach sustainability goals.

Energy providers across the country are implementing residential time-of-use (TOU) rates to help reduce demand on the grid and give customers more control over their energy use. However, encouraging customers to switch to a new rate plan is no easy task.

Most utility customers are accustomed to a flat rate where they are billed based on how much energy they use each month. With residential time-of-use rates, the amount they pay is based on when they use their energy, not just how much energy they use.

Communicating about TOU starts with understanding customer perceptions about alternative rate plans. What do customers think about their current rate? How can a TOU rate help them? What benefits do they care about most? Equipped with this knowledge, customers can make an informed decision on a rate plan that suits their needs and lifestyle.

Barriers to Adoption of Residential Time-of-Use Rates

A significant barrier is getting customers to understand they have rate plan options in the first place. According to the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative’s (SECC) report “Electric Bills and Rate Plans: Consumer Awareness and Understanding,” a majority of consumers are unaware they have rate plan options. In fact, only 28% knew they could choose between rate plans, illustrating what a new concept this is for utility customers.

“There is definitely a lack of customer understanding around rate plans,” says Nathan Shannon, SECC President and CEO. “Only 49% of customers even know what type of rate they have. Energy utilities need to make consumer education about rate plans and how to decode their bill a priority.”

Before energy utilities can promote time-of-use rates, they first need to build customer awareness. While TOU is the third most-known plan (following a traditional flat rate and equal pay-type plans), less than one-third of consumers are familiar with it. Before customers can make the switch, they should clearly understand:

  • What a TOU rate plan is
  • How the rate plan works
  • Key benefits to customers
  • Potential savings (monthly or yearly)
  • Impact on the community and electric grid
  • Recommended energy usage behaviors

The good news is that once customers know they have rate plan options, nearly 70% said they would be interested in signing up for one of them, Shannon notes. That’s why awareness and education are key to garnering customer interest in TOU.

“The hardest part is starting the conversation about TOU and getting customers used to something other than the traditional flat rates,” says Brian Lambert, Manager of Customer Programs & Customer Experience at We Energies. “Once you start having those in-depth conversations about TOU, such as options for shifting load, customers start thinking through what changes they could make in their home or business.”

Residential Customers Care About Savings

Many customers are experiencing financial hardship, especially when it comes to their housing-related expenses. According to SECC’s new survey, “Alleviating Americans’ Energy Burdens,” one-quarter of Americans — and 34% of those earning less than $50,000 per year — report they struggled to pay their electric bills over the past 12 months. Residential time-of-use rate plans can be an opportunity to help utility customers save money on their monthly energy usage.

According to Lambert, customers care most about how a rate plan will save them money. Since the average consumer isn’t familiar with demand charges, they need education on the importance of energy usage behaviors. For example, many customers don’t realize how much they will save by running their dishwasher at night or doing a load of laundry in the morning.

“I think the biggest benefit is the bill savings and that’s our focus area when communicating with customers,” Lambert says. “When we hear from customers regarding their priorities, whether the residential or commercial side, they are looking to maximize bill savings. We help them understand that, in many cases, TOU is going to require a little more attention to when they are using certain appliances versus the traditional flat rate.”

Shannon notes that consumers value concrete benefits that are relevant to their specific situation, such as their lifestyle (renter versus homeowner) or monthly energy usage. Energy utilities should take advantage of bill calculators (with a customer’s usage data included) to show an accurate estimate of how much they can save. He also recommends offering bill protection for the first six months or year when customers switch to residential time-of-use rates. This ensures customers can try the rate plan with nothing to lose.

“Consumers are very literal — they want to know a tangible savings amount,” Shannon says. “If utilities can do more shadow billing or bill predictions, this will encourage rate plan participation even more. Consumers simply want to know, ‘If I take these actions, how much will I save? If I don’t take these actions, how much will it cost me?’”

Customers Also Value Control and Comfort

While saving money is important to utility customers, it’s not the only thing they care about. SECC research finds that utility customers value the “3 C’s”: cost, control and comfort.

“Control, cost and comfort are the three words that resonate very well with customers,” Shannon says. “Saving money and being a good steward of energy is important, but customers also want control over their energy usage and to be comfortable in their home.”

Residential time-of-use rates can give customers the opportunity to control when they use energy. By making small tweaks in their behaviors, customers can lower their monthly energy bill. Energy utilities should communicate the “control” benefit of TOU — something not possible with a traditional flat rate.

Comfort is another factor for customers. Saving money is not a big motivator if they can’t be comfortable in their homes. When communicating about residential time-of-use rates, energy utilities should highlight how they will save money while maintaining comfort.

For example, customers might be worried they will need to turn off their air conditioning on hot summer days. But with an educational campaign, you can demonstrate how a smart thermostat and a few behavioral changes can reduce their A/C usage without impacting home comfort.

“I would say keep it simple for most consumers,” Shannon says. “Consumers are really interested more in the benefits specific to them and their communities. Since this is a new area for many customers, communications should focus on what actions they need to take and what benefits they’ll receive.”

The Best Channels to Communicate About TOU Rates

For We Energies, building customer awareness about residential time-of-use rates is key. The utility communicates with customers via the website, emails, newsletters and traditional means like bill inserts. Since customers view their energy utility as a trusted energy advisor, it’s imperative that utility websites, portals and other channels have intuitive and consumer-friendly TOU information.

We Energies ensures vital residential time-of-use information is readily available to customers, including how the rate works, peak and off-peak times and the general strategy around TOU. The utility also shares an extensive list of high- and moderate-impact appliances for customers to consider when making changes to their energy usage.

“We provide as much guidance as we can on how customers can effectively shift their energy usage,” Lambert says. “For instance, we let them know what the time periods are and what percentage of a week’s hours are off-peak. This provides customers with some additional certainty if they choose to go down this path.”

Make Personalization a Priority for Reaching Customers

Shannon emphasizes the importance of personalized communications about residential time-of-use rates. Since every customer is unique, a one-size-fits-all message is less effective, prompting customers to simply tune it out. Smart meter data can help energy utilities to better understand how TOU will benefit a specific customer. For example, a utility can tell if a customer is an EV owner if they have consistent energy usage at night when they are charging.

“With smart meter data, you could send customers information on TOU rates for nights and weekends,” Shannon explains. “The most crucial thing utilities can do is use the data they do have to better understand customers.”

Perhaps the most important TOU communications for We Energies, Lambert notes, is individual customer conversations. This includes email or phone conversations with the utility’s customer service representatives and business key account managers.

“When engaging with customers, TOU can be an effective part of the conversation about ways to save on their electric bill,” Lambert says. “Customers might think their only option to save is reducing their electric usage. But with TOU, they can save, not by using less, but moving their electric usage around over the course of a day.”

Only the Beginning for Residential Time-of-Use Rate Plans

As the need for alternative rate plans continues to grow, now is the time for energy utilities to refine their residential time-of-use communication strategy. By serving as a trusted energy advisor, utilities can guide customers on their TOU journey, helping them to make the most of the rate plan to save energy and reduce their monthly bill.

“As transportation transitions to electric options and smart devices allow more appliances to be programmed with time elements, customers are going to be more open to TOU,” Lambert says. “As it becomes more accessible, TOU will become an even more vital part of our conversations with customers.”

Educate your customers about residential time-of-use rates with a content marketing solution from Questline Digital.

Today’s customers feel strongly about their payment preferences. With a multitude of options available to them, from autopay to Apple Pay, consumers expect the same choices from their energy provider. That’s why it behooves energy utilities to understand the importance of payment preferences and give customers what they want.

In Questline Digital’s webinar, “Utility Customer Payment and Self-Serve Opportunities,” Qwana Falkenberg, Customer Services Supervisor at Georgia Power, and Joshua Platt, Account Director at Questline Digital, discuss why customer payment options are vital for improving customer satisfaction.

“There are numerous ways to define customer payment preferences,” Platt says. “So why do we care about payment options and devote an hour-long webinar to the topic? We care about payment options because your customers care about payment options.”

Evolution of Utility Customer Payment Options

Customer payment preferences have evolved over the last few years just as the technology for making payments has changed. According to E Source, in 2018 customers’ top payment options were automatic payment, online payment through a utility’s website and check. In comparison, in 2022, customers’ top payment preferences were online through the utility’s website/portal or paying via mobile (text or app).

According to Falkenberg, 57% of U.S. consumers made their payment through an electronic method, while only 25% used traditional payment methods, like check, money order or cash. During the coronavirus pandemic, the number of consumers using mobile wallets for payments increased from 900 million to 1.48 billion worldwide.

“This speaks volumes on what customers are looking for when it comes to making their payment,” Falkenberg says. “The payment preference evolution is definitely on the rise.”

As expected, different generations prefer different payment methods. For example, Axerve finds that Baby Boomers prefer paying by cash, checks and debit cards, while Millennials and Gen Z prefer digital methods like Venmo and Apple Pay. With every younger generation, there is a greater preference for digital payments.

  • Baby Boomers (1940s to 1960s): cash, check, ATM cards
  • Generation X (1960s to 1980s): credit and debit cards, PayPal
  • Millennials (1980s to 1990s): credit cards, prepaid cards, PayPal, Venmo
  • Generation Z (1990s to 2010s): prepaid cards, digital wallets (like Apple Pay)

Income also has a significant impact on payment preferences. The most common payment method for all incomes is autopay or through a utility’s website/portal. As income increases, the use of autopay increases. According to E Source, about 40% of customers who make over $75,000 a year pay their bill through autopay. In comparison, only 25% of customers who make under $25,000 a year utilize this method.

Lower-income customers are more likely to pay their bills via walk-in centers, phone or mail. However, with the price of postage continuing to rise, this may be changing. Conversely, higher-income customers are more likely to pay their bills through autopay and online.

“Higher-income customers typically have more money available to make ‘set it and forget it’ payments,” Platt explains. “They also may have more reliable technology access and are generally more tech-savvy.”

Focus on the Customer Experience

In addition to offering a variety of payment options, it’s important to create a quality digital customer experience. In fact, 58% of consumers want the ability to view their digital bills in multiple places. Unifying payment options under a common, easy-to-use interface has many benefits for energy utilities, including:

  • Minimizing steps to complete payment
  • Easing discovery of payment options
  • Facilitating autopay adoption
  • Increasing paperless billing enrollment
  • Improving payment reliability

This is where the importance of education comes into play. Platt shared the example of SoCalGas, which took advantage of video to help customers understand their bill and explain how to enroll in the utility’s My Account and online bill pay. Through video and other educational resources, utilities can play “show and tell” to help customers take advantage of self-serve options.

This seamless experience includes interactions with a utility’s customer service representatives. Microsoft’s Global State of Customer Service Report shows that 35% of consumers rank an agent’s lack of knowledge as a poor customer experience. Additionally, the majority of customers agree that their time being valued is imperative to a good customer experience.

“Each and every one of us are customers,” Falkenberg says. “As we engage with agents with the companies we do business with, we want to know we are speaking with someone who is knowledgeable and can assist as well as educate us on our options. As customers, we are all busy people and time is of the essence.”

For the initial customer contact to be successful, understanding their request is imperative. If this part goes wrong, it erodes trust and negatively impacts the customer experience. According to Falkenberg, Georgia Power ensures every interaction includes education to ensure customers enroll in options that fit their unique needs.

Flow chart showing call flow for utility customer payment requests

“The initial customer contact is critical — it can either serve as a brand strengthener or a brand diminisher,” Falkenberg says. “The key is anticipating customers’ needs and delivering an exceptional customer experience.”

Bill Payment Options Abound for Utility Customers

For Georgia Power, payment options continue to grow based on customer feedback and preferences. Through their Online Customer Care options, the energy utility offers mobile app, autopay and online payments. For customers who prefer making a payment in person, the utility created partnerships with various vendors like Fidelity Express, PayGo, Walmart and Kroger.

Online Customer Care

  • Web                                                                           
  • Autopay or One Time (ACH)
  • Debit Card (BillMatrix)


  • Debit/Credit/BillMatrix IVR

Authorized Payment Location (APL)

  • Fidelity Express, PayGo Checkout, Western Union, U.S. Payments and Fiserv CheckFree
  • Cash
  • Debit Card (Walmart & Kroger only)


  • Checks
  • Money Order

Based on recommendations from a J.D. Power survey, Georgia Power eliminated payment fees in August 2020. The utility found that satisfaction was low among customers who had to pay an additional fee along with their bill. As a result, eliminating the fee had a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Going forward, Georgia Power continues to grow its payment options and will soon be moving into the digital wallet space. Digital wallet options include:

  • PayPal
  • Venmo
  • Apple Pay
  • Google Pay
  • Amazon Pay

“Customers are telling us what they want,” Falkenberg says. “We are actively listening and anticipating their needs to further strengthen the relationship and deliver on our promise of exceptional customer experience.”

Creative e-Bill Promotions Boost Enrollment

For energy utilities, a continued challenge is increasing enrollment in paperless billing. According to Platt, 66% of customers receive bills by mail, but only 48% preferred to be mailed this way.

“It’s important to highlight benefits like convenience and ease of use — how paperless billing makes their life easier,” Platt says. “Remember, customers don’t care that your energy utility saves an average of $6 on printing and postage when they enroll in paperless billing unless you tell them why it matters.”

Ways to encourage e-bill enrollment:

  1. Showcase how e-bill fits into customers’ daily lives
  2. Consider an incentive or sweepstakes to capture attention
  3. Try easy and convenient enrollment options

Lincoln Electric shares on their website how they reinvest savings realized from paperless billing by planting trees in the utility’s service territory. The utility also installs solar-powered charging stations for mobile devices and electric wheelchairs in local parks. This message resonates with customers, demonstrating how paperless billing has a direct impact on their community.

Platt recommends incentivizing customers to go paperless, such as a bill credit or sweepstakes. For example, an investor-owned utility in the Southeast promoted paperless billing with a $5 gift card in exchange for enrolling in the program. Questline Digital research shows that customers offered a guaranteed incentive are more likely to respond than those offered a sweepstakes prize.

Energy Customers Want Payment Choices

In today’s world of personalization and infinite choices, payment options have a huge impact on customer satisfaction. From mobile app to mobile wallet payments, listening to what your customers want is key. When it comes to payment preferences, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why your energy utility needs a wide variety of payment options to meet the needs of all customers.

Questline Digital can help your energy utility boost customer satisfaction with a payment option communication strategy.

In Questline Digital’s Plugged In webinar, “How to Market Paperless Billing to Customers,” Senior Copywriter Breanne George and Creative Director Joe Pifher shared their insights and advice for creating successful promotions that encourage customers to switch to paperless billing.

In order to reach your program goals, your energy utility needs to understand your customers and their motivations. In doing so, you will be able to segment and promote your paperless billing program with effective messaging.

Use the right message to make them switch

In order to know what type of paperless billing campaign is right for your energy utility, you must first understand your customers. The right paperless message is personalized to your target audience.

Ask yourself this: How will paperless billing make your customers’ lives easier? To help answer this question, get to know your customers:

  • What are their needs, wants and interests?
  • What are their challenges or barriers to adoption?
  • What do their day-to-day lives look like?
  • What are their values and motivations?

George suggested a few ways to encourage the switch to paperless billing, based on successful campaigns she has worked on for energy utilities across the nation.

  • Showcase how paperless billing fits into your customers’ daily lives. This could be as simple as how your customers get to work. For example, if customers often commute on a train or subway, easy access on-the-go would be an important benefit to showcase in your paperless campaign.
  • Try easy and convenient enrollment options. Customers like simplicity – make signing up for paperless as easy as one-click enrollment and your conversion rates can increase dramatically.

Customer motivations drive eBill enrollment

Often customers who don’t switch to paperless billing have one of three reasons for not doing so. They may fear that…

  • Enrollment will take too long, and they don’t have the time
  • Going paperless will mean they won’t have statements for their records
  • They’ll be more likely to forget a payment if they switch to digital

To combat these concerns, your energy utility should relay the top paperless benefits for customers:

  • Simple – easy to manage and pay from anywhere
  • Convenient – saves time and fits the customers’ on-the-go lifestyle
  • Affordable – no need to buy stamps or worry about late fees
  • Eco-friendly – use less paper and reduce environmental footprint
  • Reliable – never forget or lose track of a bill again
  • Secure – safely manage statements and payments online

Business and residential customers have very different needs, so segmenting these audiences is encouraged. When it comes to paperless billing, business customers value:

  • Easy access to past bills and usage history
  • 24/7 bill availability when they are out and about
  • Less paper clutter in their office

Encourage multiple generations to switch to paperless billing

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the digital age of TikTok and Twitter, but when it comes to Millennials and Gen-Zers, George says email is still a viable option for these younger generations.

In fact, she shared that nearly 75% of millennials and 58% of Gen-Zers check their emails multiple times a day. However, they have a 12- and 8-second attention span, respectively, so it’s important to connect with these customers through storytelling rather than with overly promotional copy.

When it comes to older generations, Questline Digital often sees the biggest concerns related to payment security or having records on hand. George suggests “speaking to their concerns first.” Reinforce the safety of paperless billing and how it is often more secure than dropping a check in the mail. It’s also important to show them how to retrieve records of their past bills with a simple click.

Design best practices to boost campaign performance

The next step following great copy is great design. Pifher, Questline Digital’s Creative Director, shared the email best practices to consider for your creative campaign. These tips include having a message hierarchy, keeping a clear and active CTA and ensuring the email is mobile-friendly.

It’s also imperative for your energy utility to use the right imagery. You want the image to be relatable to customers, eye-catching and relevant. Pifher stressed the importance of looking at your specific audience demographics to determine the visual elements of your campaign:

  • People – age, gender, race, socioeconomic status
  • Region-specific – weather, transportation, landscape
  • Customer interests – sports, local spots, the environment, values and motivations

Pifher suggests utilities design around the inverted triangle strategy: grabbing a customers’ attention at the top, building anticipation in the headline and first few sentences and then taking them to the call-to-action. There should be plenty of white space throughout the design. Ensure the email is easy for customers to scan with the use of bullets or icons.

Incentives add value to eBill sign-ups

Pifher recommends testing incentives in your campaigns to encourage more people to switch to paperless billing. Customers often enjoy being rewarded, even if the incentive is small in value.

Questline Digital’s performance metrics show smaller, immediate rewards perform better than enter-to-win sweepstakes. However, it’s important to test large and small incentives with your target audience.

Pifher also says that by developing not just a single email, but also web banner ads, social posts, direct mail inserts and more, your energy utility is able to reach customers no matter which channel they prefer to use.

The impact of coronavirus on paperless promotions

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of people’s lives, including how they get mail or pay bills. Before the pandemic, a large push for paperless billing was the “on-the-go, anytime, anywhere” messaging. Now, Pifher says customers are looking for more convenient ways to pay bills and messaging has turned to “on the couch or in bed, anytime, anywhere” messaging.

The importance of “no touch” payments and a focus on decluttering paper bills became more important benefits of paperless billing for customers. In addition, the pandemic has simply shown the importance of adaptation — whether due to major pandemics or simply customer interests changing. The ability to shift focus at a moment’s notice is an important skill to have when developing campaigns. 

Successful campaigns require more than a simple email

As these insights show, there are many aspects to a successful paperless billing campaign. Between knowing your customers, segmenting messages based on their needs, motivating customers through diligent copy and creative design, connecting through an omnichannel approach and adapting for current environments, there is more involved to reach conversion goals than a simple email.

Equipped with these copy and design best practices, revisit your paperless billing campaign strategy to achieve your energy utility’s conversion goals.

Help more customers switch to paperless billing with an eBill marketing campaign from Questline Digital.