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Self-serve payments need an upfront dose of automation

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If your kids or grandkids have ever asked you, “What’s a postage stamp?” you can see where the future of bill payment is headed: digital. Forty percent of bills are now paid completely online, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. And two-thirds of consumers say they would prefer self-service options for addressing their issues, as long as they can easily accomplish their task, Nuance Enterprise says in another survey.

This trend toward tech-friendly self-service has the potential to improve customer experience while simultaneously reducing costs for billers — a classic win-win. Yet your company can only reach that point if you make the self-pay system work smoothly, safely and efficiently, and that requires investment in automation.

Automation, in a nutshell, refers to anything that occurs without the intervention of a live person. For bill pay, well-designed automation helps streamline various parts of the process, from making transactions seamless to simplifying business operations and collections. Payment workflow requires an investment by the biller, but the payoffs can be huge, including:

Freeing up staff time. Customer service agents no longer need to spend time on simple payment tasks. This frees them to focus on higher-level issues, like handling complicated customer scenarios, walking interested customers through auto-pay enrollment and staying up to date on compliance issues.

Reducing risk. Automation reduces the need for manual data entry, and therefore reduces the potential for errors that can lead to declined or delayed payments. In addition, building automated risk rules can help identify and flag risky payment behavior.

Lowering cost. Automation saves money by reducing expensive and time-consuming delinquent payments because it makes on-time bill payment so quick and easy. Cost savings also can come from reallocating talented staff to other high-priority tasks, including driving revenue-producing programs.

Improving customer satisfaction. Customers appreciate the ways automation makes self-service fast and frictionless. They can take advantage of set-it-and-forget-it payment options that make their lives easier, and automated customer engagement tools like reminder messages help them pay on time, every time, setting them up for financial success.

Enabling scalable growth. Companies with automation can work leaner and accomplish more, even without increasing staffing. This increases their ability to grow, take on new business or handle more loans.

With those benefits in mind, there are several automation strategies to up the ante on bill payment. These can be incorporated into your internal bill payment system or provided by the third-party bill-pay platform.

Automation tools can flag and solve common bill payment problems that might otherwise take your risk/compliance staff significant time to address one by one.

For instance, perhaps you have numerous clients paying by ACH, but a certain segment of those has an exceptionally high return rate, which creates a drag on your bottom line. You can use a business rule to dictate that “IF a customer has two or more insufficient funds errors within a year, THEN they can only pay with cards or cash.” That rule will stay in place unless the customer reaches out to resolve the situation and a customer service agent overrides it.

There’s no limit to the types of if/then parameters you can use to automate and streamline online bill pay. However, keep in mind that some bill payment providers require custom coding to create business rules, which sounds good but likely means you’ll see the results in three to six months. It’s preferable to choose a vendor that has developed standard rules that can be turned on and off easily depending on your needs. Look for a vendor that can tweak and tailor these rules as your business grows, and do so quickly within the existing platform and with zero downtime.

Automation can enable real-time updates between systems, which enables you to leverage data to create a personalized experience for each customer.

Consider that most bill payment exceptions occur due to incorrect data entry by the customer. You can use custom fields with auto-populated information to prevent those errors.

Suppose you frequently get customer service calls related to making principal-only payments. You can add the ability for customers to enter the principal-only amount directly on the payment screen, which reduces the need for personal assistance.

Recognize the 67 million people in the U.S. who speak a foreign language, and show information in their language of choice.

Take note of the mobile device used and show Apple Pay as a payment option for any customer using an iPhone, or Google Pay for those using an Android.

Automation also can provide real-time information to your customer service agents so they can address a customer concern quickly. For instance, you want your agents to know if a customer has a history of late payments, open support cases or nonsufficient funds so they can be prepared to present solutions.

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