The transition to paperless bills and paperless communications is a widely known and accepted trend across industries, motivated by cost-saving measures and environmental concerns. However, this shift has been met with differing levels of acceptance from consumers. While the convenience and efficiency of e-bill services are widely appreciated, there are plenty of use cases and reasons for customers to receive a traditional paper statement, ranging from a customer’s sentimental attachment to a hard-copy document, to organizations utilizing a strategic approach to customer communication.
Exploring both perspectives can help businesses and organizations implement strategies that meet both operational needs and customer expectations.
The Persistence of Paper Bills
Long ago, improvements in technology allowed organizations to figure out how to communicate digitally with their customers. Therefore, converting a process from paper to paperless often seems like low-hanging fruit for modernizing an operation. But physical bills continue to have important advantages versus electronic communications.
Some advantages over paperless bills include:
- They are opened and read. Delivering communications to your customers via the mail has one of the highest engagement rates of all forms of customer communication. Emails can be programmatically filtered out of an inbox but physical mail – even if discarded shortly after – by its very existence nearly demands that a customer at least open it to ensure they are not missing anything important.
- They provide an opportunity to further engage. The monthly bill or invoice is often your most important touch point with your customers. Because these communications are highly likely to be opened, they present a prime opportunity to communicate additional messages. That is why so many cities and towns include their monthly or quarterly newsletters and why businesses like to include important updates, such as price or service changes and other important communications.
- They are tangible and familiar: There’s a certain comfort in holding a physical business form in your hands. Customers can flip through the pages, checking and marking their charges before filing them away for future reference. Paperless bills cannot replicate this realness.
- They are independent of technology: With paper billing, customers have the freedom to access and review their charges anytime, anywhere, no matter the state of their Wi-Fi or devices. Further, when something like your utility bill can also double as a form of identification or proof of residence, the document takes on additional meaning outside the digital world.
- They are inclusive: An estimated 42 million Americans do not have access to broadband internet. And let’s not forget that not everyone can comfortably navigate the web.
- They allow “double dipping”: Some people prefer to receive paper statements alongside their paperless bills so they can cross-reference and verify the transactions. This approach, often referred to as “double dipping,” provides an extra layer of confidence in their accounting.
The Drawbacks of Paper Billing
Businesses and organizations can ensure their transition to e-bill services remains inclusive and customer-centric by recognizing the value of paper bills. However, it’s also important to acknowledge their shortcomings.
One major concern is the environmental impact. The production of physical statements contributes to deforestation and carbon emissions, making it less sustainable than paperless bills in the long run. It is important for printing and mailing vendors to understand their environmental impact and have strategies in place to offset their environmental footprint.
These sustainability challenges are compounded by the postage costs involved in printing and mailing physical bills, expenses that accumulate over time and significantly impact a business’s bottom line.
The Financial and Operational Benefits of Electronic Billing
Where physical statements struggle, paperless bills provide constructive solutions. Electronic billing offers a multitude of advantages over its paper counterpart:
- It’s convenient and accessible: Electronic billing eliminates the need for manual paperwork, allowing users to access and review their invoices anytime, anywhere, with just a few clicks.
- It’s efficient: Digitalization of the payment process reduces administrative costs, minimizes the risk of errors, and enables automated reminders and notifications. It also allows for integration with accounting systems, simplifying record-keeping and reconciliation.
- It’s cost-effective: Businesses significantly reduce their operational costs when they eliminate printing, paper, and postage expenses. Consumers also save time and money when they don’t have to post bills or visit payment centers.
- It ensures swift delivery and instant access: There is no need to wait for postal services or worry about misplaced documents with paperless bills. Instead, invoices are delivered instantly and are accessible with just a few clicks.
- It fulfills customer expectations: Businesses can tap into an expanding demographic of digital-savvy users who expect seamless, user-friendly customer experiences both online and off.
The Challenges of Electronic Billing
Electronic billing, despite its advantages, also comes with its fair share of challenges that businesses and recipients need to navigate.
One significant drawback is the potential for technical issues and system failures. Similarly, the higher risk of cyber threats and unauthorized access that comes with ebilling requires stringent security and data privacy protection measures.
Another significant drawback is that, when placed on paperless billing, customers tend to be on autopilot, meaning the business loses a significant opportunity to reach their customers. Newsletters and notices go unread, as well as the bill or statement. This can also lead to increased collections issues as customers can often be unaware that their credit cards are out of date, accounts are overdrafted, and/or that their bills are past due.
Technology vulnerabilities aside, transitioning to paperless bills may also involve a learning curve for customers who are less familiar with digital platforms. Fail to provide this important demographic with sufficient support and you may lose business to a competitor.
Looking Ahead: The Future of Billing and Payments
So, what then? With both mail delivery and electronic billing methods presenting their own set of pros and cons, which approach should a forward-thinking business owner take?
The answer lies in prioritizing what the customer wants. In a recent survey, a significant majority of U.S. consumers, around 78%, expressed the belief that they should have the right to choose how they receive important communications from their service providers. Rather than mandating your customers to go in any certain direction, allowing them to make well-informed decisions is the best strategy.
But this doesn’t mean ignoring ebill services. Instead, offer flexibility in billing methods, allowing customers to choose what aligns with their comfort level and preferences. This way you enhance customer experience and capitalize on the advantages of paperless bills for your business.
We Can Help
To explore the options of electronic and paper billing, consider partnering with Information Outsource. Our expertise in electronic and paper billing solutions can help you meet customer demands while taking advantage of the efficiencies that technology offers.
Contact us today to discuss how we can tailor a solution to fit your business needs.