The discussion around whether consumers want bills has been short, sharp and is continuing as we speak. The conclusion seems to be “of course consumers don’t ‘want’ bills,” but “they are a necessary evil, and the fact that they have bought something gives them certain statutory rights that need to be fulfilled by the supplier.” So says Market Strategist Hugh Roberts.
So bills in some form are here to stay.
There is also consensus on the fact that the main problem with bills is their ridiculous complexity. This can be traced back to the days when the Regulator demanded accurate billing and the telecoms companies showed off by itemising every last call and text. This, clearly, consumers do not want.
“The future role of billing,” according to Bob Swinarski, who agrees with the overall theme that consumers do not want bills, “should be one of verification prior to the statement from the bank (and therefore post transaction).” He goes on to say that “few companies have (or deserve) the level of trust to eliminate billing.” One of the operators at the Billing and Revenue Management session at the ETIS Community Gathering is of the opinion that consumers do not look at their bill, but they do look at their bank statement. This is “especially true of Millenials,” according to Graphic Designer Laura Messing. What they want, says Michael Lazarou is “a self service app to check for suspicious charges.”
It could be, though, that we are looking at this the wrong way round. As Mike Bradbury, CEO at T-Exec Solutions points out, the thinking could be straight out of a Monty Python sketch. So, “customers get upset when they open hard copy bills, and they complain. So, they don’t want bills. Email bills seldom get looked at which provides further evidence that they didn’t want them in the first place. Finally, when they are not told there is a bill and money vanishes from their account, they don’t complain, so the absence of complaints and bills must be what they want.”
Keith Russell of Striata points to an Infotrends survey from 2010, which said that only 14 percent of customers want to visit a company’s portal to see a bill and 46 percent prefer an emailed bill.” That said, the bill should not be a flat .pdf file since that is just a replica of the paper one. What is needed is an “interactive .pdf eBill, so that usage graphs can be incorporated and CSV or OFX format billing data can be embedded.”
“Do this,” says Russell, “and the regular customer billing touch point becomes a valuable document that customers will open.” Marketing opportunities will follow.
Interestingly Roberts does not agree. Communications bills still offer nothing but a bill (a view we would agree with, we have spent too much trying to persuade ourselves that the bill is a positive channel, and it is not) but some companies do interesting things. Brands such as Tesco and Sainsbury offer something different. As Roberts says, “both Tesco and Sainsbury send me monthly ‘statements.’ I open these, and inspect them. Why, because they contain ‘money.’” Even though the ‘money’ comes in the form of vouchers, that can only be redeemed at their stores, there is generally a decent shopping trolley full for most of us at the end of the year.
Unless the bill, however it is presented, contains some compelling reason to open it, such as ‘money’ then we may indeed be looking at ‘the death of the bill,’ the rise of the loyalty statement and the emergence of payments as the new billing.