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Pre-Pay Electricity: Here’s Some IT You Could Use
Consumers can buy pre-paid cell phones, internet, gift cards and debit cards They can even pre-pay tolls so that their road-related charges are automatically deducted from a pre-financed account. According to researchers at the Northeast Group, a Washington, DC-based market intelligence firm, “electricity will be the next growth market for prepaid offerings.”
To the consumer, pre-paid electricity offers a way to monitor and control energy bills and avoid late fees or reconnection charges. For utilities, pre-pay systems can help address non-payment issues while boosting energy conservation and customer satisfaction. Typical energy savings from pre-pay programs equals 5.5 to 14 percent, according to a study by the Distributed Energy Financial Group. An article in DeFG shows customer satisfaction at 42% for “highly satisfied” and “somewhat satisfied at 40% with their prepay options.
If you’re a utility looking at a pre-paid offering, you should consider these types of IT support that can make pre-paid service succeed or fail. Among the enabling technology you’ll need are:
A customer portal: Naturally, you’ll need a way for consumers to sign up for the service and also check their consumption online. You may also want some kind of do-it-yourself energy audit to help consumers lower their electricity spend.
In addition, you need to put consumers in charge of how much they spend and when they spend it. Why? Because one of the things that makes prepay systems so popular with customers is that these programs put the customer in control. With pre-pay, your customer may choose to spend $25 a week instead of $100 a month. Or, she may want to plunk down $300 and have a few months with no power bill at all. Your pre-pay program must enable this kind of flexibility, and it must also integrate with your CIS to ensure the customer’s payments are properly recorded.
An alerting system: What happens when consumers reach a low or zero balance on their pre-paid account? If you don’t have some form of automation in place, you’ll see unnecessary disconnects and unhappy customers. You’ll need some way for consumers to receive timely notifications about their balances via phone, text of email.
Mobility solutions: Many of the customers who choose prepaid service are on the lower end of the income scale, and some don’t have in-home internet service or home-based computers. However, most will have a phone, and it’s probably a smart phone. You’ll need to make sure you have technology in place that will let customers buy electricity and check their consumption on mobile devices.
Analytics: You may also want to gather data and apply analytics to analyze payment and consumption patterns and also to see how your portal, alerts and mobility solutions serve the customer and help you achieve your goals with the pre-paid program.
For instance, if you implement the system for debt reduction and recovery, you’ll need to be able to track whether the program really does cut down on disconnects. Likewise, if you’re looking for ways to help customers understand their energy use and avoid service interruptions, you need to track what channels they’re using to monitor that usage.
Supported by an easy-to-use portal, automated alerts, mobility solutions and analytics, your pre-pay program has a strong chance of being successful. And, just to make sure that happens, look to Datavail for these enabling technologies. Our team can help you with these IT solutions and more, contact us to learn more.
We’ll also be at CS Week 18, the premier annual educational and customer service conference serving electric, gas and water/wastewater utility professionals across North America and around the world. Schedule a session with a utilities expert and stop by booth #938 for chance to win prizes, including Bose headphones and a Mustang Convertible. For additional resources please see our Utility Resource Center.