Castle Rock's water utility has successfully launched a wide range of socially-driven alternative marketing techniques to spark adoption of its automated billing options.

"They're a great example of how to roll out e-billing. They had a champion in their organization and they did all of the right things with marketing, hit it in all the right places," says Mitch Rose, a senior vice president at BillTrust, which provided the technology that powers Castle Rock Water's digital payments upgrade.

The utility began offering e-statements and e-billing in January, and saw adoption of e-statements go from zero to 23% of the utility's 17,000 accounts in about four months. Fifty-nine percent of e-statement recipients pay electronically.

To market its electronic payment options, Castle Rock Water used relatively low-cost or free venues such as Facebook posts, electronic messaging, Twitter, and LED signage at the town hall, along with more traditional methods such as mailed post cards, bill inserts and an editorial in Castle Rock's Outlook magazine.

This marketing mix reaches a lot of people who are accustomed to transacting on mobile devices and using new technology, says Anne Glassman, the business solutions manage for Castle Rock Water.

"We were able to educate our customer base about the new options. One of the most important benefits is that it meets the needs of our customers," Glassman says. "It also reduces our billing costs and improves the timing of receiving and applying payments."

Castle Rock, a town of 35 miles south of Denver with about 55,000 residents, has a high percentage of younger, educated residents with an median household income of more than $84,000, exceeding than the state and national median household incomes (about $58,000 and $53,000, respectively, according to U.S. census data). Its employers include a number of IT and technology companies, as well as web design and health care companies.

"The answer on how you generate that kind of adoption is it depends on the utility and their customer base and how they communicate to their customers," Rose says. "It's about knowing the customers."

The utility also examined municipal research of consumer tendencies and desired digital billing options when building its mix of payment technology. Castle Rock Water deployed bill presentment, an option to pay bills through the water user's bank account, a mobile app to view and pay bills, and an option to use the ACH network to perform one-time payments without enrolling an online account. Customers are also able to use their bank or credit card account to make payments.

To encourage further adoption, the town added a QR code to mailed statements. Users scan the QR code with a smartphone or tablet to visit their account access page.

Consumer can still use traditional methods such as paying at the counter, drive-through drop boxes and mail, Glassman says.

Research suggests there's demand for electronic billing options for utilities.

BillTrust's competition in the utility e-billing market include Check (which Intuit is in the process of buying), whose clients include a water utility in Palm Springs, Calif.; and Dwolla, which has worked with Iowa's state government on billing technology.

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