5 Ways to Improve the Utility Billing Process

July 17, 2023

The top customer complaint in the energy sector is billing, according to the Energy Ombudsman (UK). The good news is that there are multiple steps utility companies can take to improve their billing process, ultimately leading to customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. 

Let’s look at what exactly customers are complaining about, and the 5 strategies that will take utility providers from poor customer service to delivering an exceptional customer experience!

  1. What are the top 3 billing issues in the energy sector?
  2. The 5 strategies to improve the utility billing process 

What are the top 3 billing issues in the energy sector?

Before we begin to explain why improving utility bills is crucial, we’ll let the data speak for itself.

From the latest  ‘Energy Complaints Data Report’ published in March 2022 (Ombudsman Services):

  • Among 100,000 customer accounts, there are approximately 24 billing complaints. This makes up the majority of the complaints. 

Below, you’ll find the 3 most common billing complaints in the energy sector. 

Disputed account balance

This era of energy bill debates often stems from a bill shock, which happens when a consumer reacts to an unexpected or a higher-than-usual bill. 

Due to that, customers sometimes dispute the total amount stated on their energy bill. They may feel it is incorrect or overcharged, often due to meter reading discrepancies, billing errors, or misunderstandings about rates or charges.  

Disputed gas or electricity usage 

Customers may question the accuracy of the recorded gas or electricity consumption on their energy bill. They believe the meter readings provided by the energy provider do not align with their actual usage. 

This complaint focuses on usage details, such as the amount of energy consumed during a billing period.

Estimated billing/readings  

Many times, energy providers cannot do an actual meter reading for a specific billing period and instead estimate energy usage based on past consumption patterns or other factors. 

Estimated billings can sometimes lead to discrepancies between the estimated and actual usage. It is no surprise that customers may find this frustrating as the estimated bills may not accurately reflect their energy habits, potentially resulting in over-billing or under-billing.

The 5 strategies to improve the utility billing process

Effective utility billing involves accurate data collection, self-service capabilities, personalisation, efficient customer service, and automation, all working together to deliver a seamless and customer-centric billing experience.

Data Accuracy

Any successful energy provider would agree that data accuracy is the foundation of the billing experience. At the stage of collecting data, it is very likely that errors will occur, resulting in false or incomplete information. Let's explore how data accuracy can significantly enhance the billing process in the utility sector.

Precise Invoicing and Improved Customer Experience

Accurate data is essential in the meter reading process to avoid mistakes in billing or estimates that lead to overcharging and undercharging consumers. It addresses factors such as fraud (intentional theft) and human error (unintentional theft) that contribute to non-technical losses in the utilities sector. 

By ensuring accurate data, utility companies can minimise losses, provide precise invoicing, and enhance the overall customer experience.

Billing Cycles and Compliance

Accurate data enables streamlined billing cycles, eliminating delays and improving cash flow. With reliable data, utilities can efficiently generate invoices, deliver them promptly, and establish consistent billing cycles. 

This ensures that customers receive their bills on time, facilitating better financial planning and reducing payment delays. Additionally, maintaining data accuracy throughout the billing process ensures compliance with industry standards and regulations, avoiding penalties and legal complications.

"A way to avoid receiving billing complaints is to provide accurate data"

Self-service Capabilities

Self-service capabilities, including self-meter reading and timely data recording, offer significant potential for improving the billing process in utilities. 

Here's an explanation of how these capabilities contribute to a more efficient billing process:

Self-Meter Reading

Self-meter reading empowers customers to take an active role in recording their energy consumption. Instead of relying solely on meter readers or estimated readings, customers can submit their own meter readings through online portals or mobile apps provided by utility companies. 

This self-service option promotes accuracy and transparency by allowing customers to provide real-time readings based on their actual usage. It reduces reliance on estimated readings and minimises discrepancies between actual consumption and billed amounts. Self-meter reading ensures more precise billing and helps customers feel more involved and in control of their energy usage.

Learn more about self-meter reading here.

Timely Data Recording

Timely data recording is essential for an efficient billing process. With self-service capabilities, customers can promptly and conveniently input their meter readings or other relevant data directly into the utility company's system.

By providing clear instructions and user-friendly interfaces, utility providers can encourage customers to submit their data in a timely manner. Timely data recording eliminates delays in the billing cycle, reducing the chances of estimated or delayed bills. It ensures that billing is based on accurate and up-to-date information, leading to more accurate invoices and a smoother billing experience for both customers and utility providers.

AI-Driven Hyper-Personalisation 

In today's era of hyper-personalisation, where everything we consume is customised to our preferences, customers anticipate communications that are tailored to their needs. 

Rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to handling delinquent accounts, utility providers are embracing personalised, customer-centric communications.

With AI-driven personalisation at the forefront, energy companies can offer customised and cost-effective energy solutions that cater to individual customer needs, preferences, and usage habits. 

For instance, a homeowner who tends to consume more energy during peak hours can receive personalised recommendations to optimise their energy usage and reduce costs. This not only helps customers reduce energy consumption and lower utility bills but also allows energy providers to proactively address customer needs in real-time. 

An example of this would be Blicker’s chatbot, which offers customers communication in their preferred channel! Meter readings can be done instantly, and the best part? Bills are sent to consumers on the spot, wherever they want. 

Utility Customer Service Done Efficiently

In the face of the energy crisis and a shifting consumer mindset towards consumption control, the need for being responsive and fostering effective communication has become crucial. I

Utility providers can implement a customer service strategy that addresses common roadblocks in the billing process and enhances the overall customer experience. 

One key aspect is engaging deeply with customers to better understand their needs and expectations. This includes conducting interviews, call listening, and utilising focus groups or panels to gather insights directly from customers. 

By actively involving customers in the process, utility providers can design experiences that align with their preferences, resulting in more customer-centric communications and clearer billing language. 

Furthermore, organisations should prioritise user-centric innovation by leveraging design thinking and user-centered design practices. This approach ensures that improvements in the billing process are grounded in the voice of the customer and data, rather than relying on internal assumptions. 

And through:

  • Simplifying account and bill structures 
  • Shifting services online
  • Using customer-friendly language

Utility providers can create a more supportive and intuitive billing experience. 

Furthermore, transforming call center operations and investing in better performance management, training, and coaching of call center employees contribute to a comprehensive customer service strategy for improving the billing process.

How the billing experience could be enhanced for the utilities sector: simplifying account and bill structures, shifting services online, and using customer-friendly language.u

Automated Billing System 

Using an automated billing system enables SaaS and subscription companies to establish customised rules for sending invoices to clients and customers on a predetermined schedule. 

In the utility sector, Utility bill automation refers to the use of technology and software systems to streamline and automate the process of collecting, validating, and managing utility bills. 

Utility bill automation includes the following features:

  • Alerts for late arriving bills
  • Notifications from suppliers
  • Estimates for missing bills
  • Detection of bill duplication or overlapping billing periods
  • Alerts for late fees
  • Tracking total usage and spend
  • Comparing interval data with usage patterns
  • Assessing contract prices
  • Ensuring utility charges align with tariffs
  • Monitoring environmental compliance charges
  • Maintaining an account activation list

And much more.

By automating the billing process, companies can accelerate payment collection for outstanding bills while providing clients and customers with a simple way to view their balances and make payments. It is also more possible to effectively manage and optimise budget energy bills, ensuring accurate and timely invoicing for their customers.

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