Government Payments: How to collect revenue without pissing people off

Public services have a tough burden to bear. Unlike the buyer’s high of snagging the latest gaming console, the checkout experience to pay a ticket, tax, fine, or fee does not bring such euphoria. 

But pay, we must. Local governments and municipal utilities depend on this revenue to supply the public services we all need. Government payments are obligatory, but they don’t need to be painful. Public entities can create positive interactions surrounding checkout, incentivize more timely and efficient payments, and even delight their customers – or at least not piss them off. 

 

How to improve government for everyone

When introducing new government technology, it’s important to consider the diverse needs of all customers. Technology for government services should provide easy access for people who want to complete all tasks from a smartphone as well as those who value an in-person experience with a hard proof of payment. 

Using a centralized, multi-channel payment platform can improve customer experience in a variety of ways. It allows customers to make a self-service payment whether they choose to pay online or in person via bill pay kiosk. And it can also improve interactions between customers and cashiers by providing your staff with easy-to-use point of sale software that helps them do their jobs.

A unified and integrated payment system offers multiple benefits. Customers find the same information about their accounts no matter how they pay. For instance, a cash customer may look up their balance online and come in person to pay their balance on the kiosk. They expect to see the same balance regardless of the channel where they look up their information. 

On the back end, staff can reconcile all revenue across every payment channel, every tender type like cash, check, or card, and across all government departments. This also means that staff can easily support customers by finding transaction information no matter how that customer paid, for common tasks like processing refunds.

 

Be transparent about fees, and provide easy no-fee payment options

Give your customers clear information about any added fees (here’s a primer on service and convenience fees). 

Do you waive any fees for payments made in person, or for those made in cash? Cities like Lawrence, Indiana let customers pay for municipal utilities using cash, check, and card for free on a payment kiosk. In fact, many municipal utilities are improving customer experience for their entire city.

Do you pass through credit card fees to your customers, but absorb check processing fees? Let customers know that they have a no-fee way to pay if they opt for ACH payments by bank account, also known as eCheck. 

Even better, let customers securely store a preferred payment method for your city’s online billing. This way, people can more easily use their bank account every time they check out. They can also schedule recurring automatic payments, or what we like to call the “set-it-and-forget-it” payment option — which in turn ensures timely and efficient revenue collection for government services.

Do you offer government payment plans that let customers pay a little toward their bill to avoid late fees? Make it clear to people what their minimum amount due is, when the next payment is due, and ensure they have a no-fee way to make those incremental payments.

By helping customers to easily avoid fees, you:

  • Improve customer experience and promote more efficient self-service transactions
  • Reduce your staff man-hours for hunting down late payments or enforcing penalties
  • Avoid inbound customer calls from people confused about their bill or requesting a refund

 

The bottom line

When it comes to providing in-person and digital public services, what’s best for your customers is what’s best for your city, and vice versa. Easier payment options lead to more timely revenue collection. Reducing your own payment processing costs can help eliminate fees for your customers. And more streamlined government technology can lay a foundation for positive interactions between residents and their local government.

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