What utilities should consider when evaluating payment kiosk vendors
Utilities across the country are implementing kiosks to support their in-person customers.
Self-service payment kiosks provide added convenience for walk-in customers by allowing them to pay 24/7 with real-time account data, reducing lines and foot traffic with speedy transaction times, and creating a self-service option for cash, check, and credit and debit cards — including for partial or past-due payments.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, these self-service kiosks are a lifeline for customers who pay in person due to preference or need, especially with some utility payment centers limiting indoor capacity, shortening business hours, or closing buildings entirely.
For utilities, outdoor payment kiosks especially have helped maintain revenue continuity, and the cloud-based payment software helps keep staff safe by allowing them to do their jobs remotely. In fact, kiosks are eligible for CARES Act reimbursement as a Covid-related expense.
We asked experts from across CityBase to weigh in on what utilities should be asking themselves and their prospective vendors before choosing the kiosk solution that’s right for their business and their customers.
What should utilities consider as they’re procuring a payment kiosk solution?
“Look for a vendor with a good reputation in the industry.”
Kim Kartchner, Director of Utility Client Development
Ask for references, and understand how many kiosk clients the vendor has.
Consider implementation. Can the vendor commit to a fast implementation timeline? How is the kiosk powered? Is it hardwired into a physical location, or do you only need a power outlet to turn it on?
Think about the payment experience for your utility customers. Customers who pay at check cashing establishments deal with big payment fees, and utilities miss an important opportunity to interact with those customers directly. This poses issues with recourse on payments like overcharges, or payments posted to the wrong account, etc. A positive kiosk experience should be integrated to the utility’s customer information system (CIS) in order for customers to validate their account before they make a payment. Additionally, with real-time data, the utility can answer any inbound questions about a payment immediately after it’s made.
What’s the quality of both the hardware and software? Does the kiosk machine have “casino-grade” cash counting? What’s the response time for payments posted back to the CIS: is it real-time or just one batch per day? Does the kiosk vendor have at least 99.5% up-time reliability? Will the vendor proactively monitor the kiosk solution to ensure it’s functioning properly at all times?
“Consider how the kiosk can positively impact customer experience and company operations.”
D.T. Bosher, Utility Sales Director
- Can a customer apply for a payment extension, a payment plan, and understand the payment amount due, past due amount, and reconnect charges due?
- Will payment processing be in real time with customer payments posting in minutes?
- Will the kiosk reduce PCI compliance? What security measures are in place to protect customer information? Is data encrypted?
- Can a utility limit the payment type for a customer paying with derogatory payment history?
- Can you set maximum limits on the amount that’s able to be paid based on tender type?
- Does the kiosk solution have a revenue management feature? Can a utility view the kiosk payments in real time, and void or refund customer transactions?
- Can the payment technology support other payment channels on the same platform, like web and POS?
“Focus on minimizing the burden on the user.”
Rob Jurewicz, Product Designer
When picking a vendor, it is easy to be dazzled into a solution that does a lot of things, but how well does that solution do its core function? It is easy to throw in a bunch of services onto the kiosk, but what you should really focus on is:
- What is the main thing your customer is trying to accomplish?
- Why did they make that drive to the kiosk in the first place?
- How accessible is it to a person that is not technologically savvy?
- If someone isn’t comfortable paying online, is the kiosk an easier alternative to use instead?
“Find a solution that helps limit the amount of customer disconnections.”
Bill Kennedy, Hardware Support Manager
Interrupting a customer’s electricity service due to non-payment is bad for customers and bad for business. It’s in the best interest of everyone if utility companies make it as easy as possible for all customers to pay their bills to avoid service interruptions.
Utilities spend a lot of money sending teams out to turn customer electric service off and then returning to turn it back on. Not to mention the vehicle liability of making the two trips.
Utilities should look for kiosks that allow convenient cash, check, and credit card payment processing for customers to pay even after hours. An effective kiosk solution also allows customers to make partial payments to avoid service disconnection.
Receipts should include the transaction number, which can be used to follow up with the utility to verify that a payment has been made on the bill and to keep the customer off the cut off list.
Kiosks should also allow utility customers to pay their bills throughout the month without being burdened by service fees (CityBase never charges customers a service fee on a cash payment). We’ve seen that some utility customers will pay weekly because they are paid weekly, visiting a kiosk 4 to 5 times a month to satisfy their utility bill payment.
Cash customers will save hundreds of dollars in a year by not using a currency exchange to pay their utilities. And utilities will be acknowledged by their customers for the convenience of paying at the kiosk.
“Look for a kiosk partner that will make life easier for all your customers, inclusive of their needs and preferences.”
Kassy Kozdoy, Proposal Manager
- What range of accessibility does the kiosk solution offer to customers? Can customers make payments 24/7? How are customers with English limitations or disabilities accommodated?
One of the most beneficial aspects of getting a kiosk is giving your customers the flexibility to pay any time at a physical location. 24/7 accessibility is extremely convenient for people with non-standard work schedules or who simply want to pay their bills on their own schedule. Kiosks also promote social distancing, which gives vulnerable members of the community a chance to pay their bills at a physical location. Additionally, the kiosk solution should comply with ADA standards and have features such as additional languages to accommodate customers with disabilities and low English proficiency levels.
- Is the kiosk payment technology simple and intuitive? Does the platform allow customers to search and find their debts easily?
The kiosk solution should be easy for customers to navigate. The payment flow should be in logical order with clear instructions available each step of the way. Customers should be able to use a variety of identifiers to search for their debt including name, address, phone number, and account number.
- Can the kiosk accommodate payments for other utilities or government departments?
It’s an added customer convenience if walk-in customers can pay all their bills in one place, for instance both water and electric utilities, or payments for municipal utilities and other city bills like permits, taxes, or tickets.
- Is the solution PCI compliant and does this protect the client from security issues?
Security should always be a major factor in deciding which kiosk payment technology to procure. You want to make sure that your customer’s personal and financial information is secure by using payment technology that meets all financial and industry standards. Selecting a PCI compliant vendor will also transfer the liability burden to the vendor if payments traverse their network.
- How is the kiosk solution integrated to the client systems and what are some of the benefits? Are transactions and account updates available in real time?
Direct integration to your source systems is important for providing real-time data for both customers and staff. Customers want to see their payments posted immediately to have an accurate sense of their account status. Real-time posting also allows your staff to have up-to-date reporting available at any time.
- Does the vendor consistently upgrade the kiosk solution, does the vendor develop new technology and features, and how does the vendor handle minimizing downtime for upgrades and issues?
When selecting a payment kiosk solution, seeking out a vendor that shows innovative practices and new technology may be a long-term benefit. In this day and age, technology changes at lightning speed, and you don’t want to get tied to a company that doesn’t update their products and services. Also, quality kiosk vendors will have tested methods for upgrading and fixing the software to minimize or avoid downtime.
- What kind of experience does the vendor have with implementing the kiosk payment solution?
A vendor that shows quality, extensive experience is more likely to provide you with the same successful experience. Look for vendors that can demonstrate their ability to deliver on time, handle issues quickly and efficiently, and maintain consistent, open communication. Any experiences the vendor can show regarding projects of similar size and scope usually indicates their ability to deliver successful results for your project as well. Talk to the vendors’ references and ask in-depth questions about their experiences to get first-hand feedback on the existing partnerships.