If you read my last blog post closely, you may have been as surprised as I was to learn that nearly 4 in 5 senior citizens (79%) prefer to pay using automatic payments. I would have guessed most senior citizens still mailed their payments, so this was definitely an eye-opener for me!

Also of interest from that post were the reasons customers don’t use automatic payments, primary among them the need for clear instructions how to start or stop automatic payments. The second reason was wanting to use specific methods of payment – debit cards, checking accounts (ACH), and credit cards.

What does this mean for your utility?

First of all, if you aren’t offering bank drafts, get started! Bank drafts are the easiest way to collect payments and there’s no reason to not offer them. Virtually all banks accept bank drafts and any billing software being sold today should offer this as a standard feature.

Secondly, if you offer automatic debit or credit card payments (sometimes called recurring credit cards), be sure your customers are aware of this option. If you don’t offer this, you should consider doing so. If your billing software vendor offers a fully integrated online bill pay option, use it! If not, a number of third-party providers offer online bill pay with automatic payments.

Publicity is key

Since the primary reason customers balk at using automatic payments is not knowing how to activate or deactivate them, be sure you publicize how easy this is to do. Most publicity for automatic payments deals with convincing customers to sign up, but don’t forget to also explain how easy it is to discontinue the service. Knowing how simple it is to stop auto payments may be all it takes to overcome some customers’ initial objections.

Ask every customer

It’s not an accident that some utilities have very high bank draft adoption rates. It’s because they ask every new customer if they would like to be drafted.

Especially with the slowdown in mail delivery from the USPS, do you have more customers complaining about being charged a late fee? Use this opportunity to present automatic payments as an option, even offering to waive the late fee if the customer signs up for bank drafts.