Why Utilities Shouldn’t Outsource Walk-In Payments to Pay Agents
There are many ways that utilities and their customers benefit from having regular, official touchpoints. Utilities have a chance to promote goodwill with their communities, and customers gain a better understanding of their service and account finances.
Customers who pay in person can often be left behind in this equation. When utilities limit payment center hours or outsource walk-in payments entirely, it can cause unintended burdens for their customers.
Official utility bill payment kiosks provide the same level of self-service access that many customers can find online, with the benefit of supporting customers who pay in cash, those without reliable access to online banking technology, and people who are more comfortable paying in person. When utilities provide better financial technology for their customers, everybody benefits.
Utilities should protect customer experience and information security
When utilities outsource their walk-in payments to third-parties, they lose control of the customer experience. These outside organizations control the regular interaction with customers, and essentially become the face of the utility for those valued customers — without any oversight from the utility.
This can cause a poor customer experience, and utilities miss out on important insights about the households they serve, as well as the opportunity to let customers know about relevant service offerings.
Even more importantly, the pay agent gains access to sensitive customer personal identifying information (PII). They may retain customer information on premises in the form of bill stubs and counter slips, including names, account numbers, and addresses. Utilities lose oversight over who sees this information and whether or not it is ever archived or destroyed.
Self-service utility solutions empower customers to avoid fees and penalties
CityBase kiosks give your utility customers more information, autonomy, and convenience surrounding their account finances. Kiosks enable customers to make free payments toward their bills, avoiding added service fees from pay agents that quickly add up.
Particularly for un- and under-banked customers who may be struggling financially and must pay their bills in cash, predatory service fees from third-party vendors act as an unintended tax on low-income households.
Many customers use payment kiosks to check the status of their account. Customers can quickly look up their current balance using any information in your source system, with industry-leading security that keeps personal identifying information private and secure.
When utilities outsource in-person services to third-party pay agents, customers don’t have the same discretion when learning about their account balance. A pay agent may not have the ability to look up a customer’s current balance, and customers may feel pressure to make a payment rather than hold up a line for information gathering.
By understanding exactly how much is due or past-due, customers can make informed decisions about how much they need to pay in order to stay in good standing with their utility provider. Some may decide to pay a little toward their bill throughout a pay period.
Kiosks enable customers to make partial payments without incurring added fees, and help maintain privacy about how they choose to pay. And unlike with a payment dropbox, payments post instantly to a customer’s account, helping them avoid service interruptions or penalty fees.
“Currently if you’re scheduled for disconnect today, and you make a payment on the kiosk, within a matter of minutes the disconnect will be canceled. If they were forced to come in and pay a representative and they can’t make that full payment, it’s a little discouraging. By paying on a kiosk, there’s no judgment if they pay bills multiple times a month.” —Supervisor of Customer Services, City Utilities of Springfield
Simple, multilingual instructions enhance access and convenience
Easy-to-understand visual instructions in English and Spanish make it simple to complete kiosk transactions quickly and promote high customer adoption. The average transaction time for a CityBase kiosk is under a minute for cash, check, and card payments — which also helps to eliminate lines and promote customer satisfaction.
With a pay agent, customers with limited English proficiency may have to worry about navigating their utility bill payment in another language. Utilities that outsource walk-in payments can’t control staffing decisions to ensure the best service for their Spanish-speaking customers.
When customers are using an official kiosk payment channel from their utility, they can discover additional services like payment plans, pre-paid utility bills, and other important benefits.
“We have a huge Spanish-speaking population, and we’ve always struggled to hire as many people as we can who are bilingual. I’ve seen multiple times where I’ve come in in the mornings and I’d walk by one of the kiosk units and it’s still in Spanish. That’s another big customer service feature with the kiosks.” —Chief Financial Officer, Lawrence Utilities
All utility bills in one place on a 24/7 bill pay kiosk
People who pay their bills in person have to travel to multiple locations to pay all their bills, juggling the logistics of service hours for multiple utilities or government departments. With CityBase one-stop kiosk technology, a single utility bill payment kiosk can accommodate payments from different billers, like power and water utilities, parking tickets and property taxes.
Kiosks extend service hours up to 24/7. Since kiosks can be installed anywhere — in and around payment centers and at other public and retail locations — customers can conveniently pay their bills at a time and location that works best for them.
Kiosks offer customers the flexibility to pay all their utilities via official payment channel, eliminating the extra hurdle of navigating pay agent business hours or crowded lines.
“The kiosk terminals are a great system to have in house for our customer base. Customers aren’t going to waste their time going from utility to utility to pay bills. For people who don’t have banking or checking accounts, this is the way to go. Consumers already know how to use the technology. We also offer bill payment services at our window, but you have to pay a fee because of our labor costs. Most people prefer to pay at a free kiosk terminal.”
—President of Prince Valley Markets, a grocer that houses three DTE Energy payment kiosks