Cut Costs, Not Corners: Four Self-Service Payment Strategies to Help Reduce Customer Service Dependence

Though self-service has become common in many areas of modern life (think shopping and banking), getting consumers on board when it comes to bill payment has been more of a challenge.

In fact, 62% of U.S. adults have called customer service regarding a bill in the past 12 months. That number was even higher (68%) for the youngest payers (ages 18-29), who are widely believed to disdain phone calling. To compound this problem, 44% of billers say they are having trouble filling customer service jobs.

This reliance on customer service isn’t sustainable for billers already struggling to maintain staffing in a tight labor market.

Sticking with the status quo is a mistake.

Long wait time to talk to an agent leads to customer dissatisfaction and may, ultimately, cause customers to hang up and postpone bill payment. Also, customer service is expensive. A 2019 poll by Gartner determined that live channels like phone, live chat and email cost about $8 per contact, compared to about 10 cents per contact for self-service channels.

Transitioning your customers to automated, self-service payment is necessary—and it’s possible with some simple adjustments by the biller’s payments platform provider. Here are four simple steps billers can take now to move consumers to self-service payments.

  1. Send payers personalized payment links or QR codes to simplify payments.

Often, problems encountered when customers log in to make a payment lead to customer service calls. According to the survey, 12% of respondents overall, and 22% of 18-29-year-olds, are calling customer service due to login difficulties.

Billers can easily reduce customer service calls by sending automated, personalized and pre-authenticated payment links via SMS message, push notification or email, or by printing personalized QR codes on paper statements. Payers simply tap on the payment link or scan the QR code with their mobile device to go directly to their personal payment screen—no passwords or account numbers required.

If this simple automation keeps 12% of customers from calling customer service, it’s worth making it the first line of defense to encourage self-service payments.

  1. Offer customized scheduling as an incentive for autopay.

Autopay is considered the golden ticket for self-service payments. It removes many of the common hurdles that drive payers to call customer service, such as needing assistance when making a payment, resetting passwords or dealing with late payment fees.

Nevertheless, only about 4 in 10 consumers choose autopay to pay their recurring bills, possibly due to lack of payment flexibility. One way billers can entice more payers to sign up is by letting them customize their autopay schedule. For instance, the customer could have autopay set up to pay the bill in full each month (the default), or divided into weekly or bi-weekly payments to better accommodate their cash flow.

A more frequent payment schedule may lead to some additional transaction charges for billers, but the payoff of regular, on-time, self-service payment will more than compensate. 

  1. Ensure all important account information is visible on each customer’s payment screen.

Many calls to customer service involve questions that could be answered with a more robust online payment interface. For instance, 9% of callers wanted to know their payoff amount or payment history; 11% needed to change their address or personal information; and 27% had other billing-related questions, according to respondents of the PayNearMe consumer survey.

Billers can circumvent many of these questions by making their payment interface more user-friendly. The payment screen should include as much useful information as possible, such as the amount due, due date, interest rate, payoff amount and last payment date and amount. The user should be able to easily locate links to complete common tasks like changing account information, setting up autopay or requesting a change to their due date.

When all these elements are easy to find right from the payment screen and intuitive to use, customers won’t feel compelled to call customer service for assistance.

  1. Offer an automated option for payers to change their payment due date on a one-time basis.

In a tight economy, many people are stretching paychecks further to make ends meet, and that might mean less money to cover bills when the payment date arrives. Billers can help by allowing payers a one-time change to their payment date to better coincide with payday. This strategy is validated by the 76% of survey respondents who said flexibility in setting their payment dates would help them pay on time.

To make this a self-serve option, billers can provide a link to the form right from the customer’s payment screen. Billers may also decide to promote this option by sending automated messages to chronically late payers with a live link. Or they can have customer service agents offer to message customers the link when they call to request a payment date change or late-fee waiver.

Increase self-service with frictionless payments

Most consumers want to take care of bill payment independently – depending on the survey, 60%-80% say they prefer self-service. But your customers need the right tools and incentives to increase self-service. When you offer one-tap login, customized autopay, a comprehensive payment screen, and a one-time payment schedule change, fewer customers will need to contact customer service for their basic billing needs, leaving customer service departments free to focus on more complex customer issues. That’s a win for everyone.

  • Jill Conrad

    Jill Conrad is the Sr. Director of Sales at PayNearMe. She partners with lenders to help automate the payments and collections processes, as well as increase self-service and customer payment satisfaction by allowing their customers to pay how, when and where they want.