Prepay Press: November 2017
In This Issue:
Hurricanes have wreaked havoc on many communities in recent weeks, but utility service providers continue to be a bright spot in the news and a source of inspiration. Linemen from many of our utility customers traveled beyond their service areas to lend a helping hand, and utilities in the affected areas went the extra mile to keep the lights on and restore service as quickly as possible. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Your work continues to inspire us as we continue our efforts to improve MyUsage to better meet your needs as you serve customers with prepay and traditional post-pay accounts. As you’ll see in this newsletter, we’ve been busy with the release of MyUsage Payment Version 3.0, which dramatically increases the number of convenient payment options available to customers. We now built direct interfaces into leading merchant bank processors like Chase Paymentech so that you can offer the fastest, most secure and most affordable online and in-person credit card payment solutions to your customers. Additionally, through our partnerships with PayNearMe, and MoneyGram, customers can make cash payments at thousands of retail locations across the country. We have taken care of the comprehensive technical integration with these partners so that you can quickly and seamlessly offer the best payment convenience and options to your customers.
Keep up the great work and please continue to share your success stories and your challenges with us and the User Advisory Board. Your feedback guides our efforts to continually improve our service offerings, and we value your input.
Bob Crenshaw, President & CEO
From the Support Desk: After the Pilot
As you read this newsletter, you’ll note there is much emphasis on MyUsage Payments. Normally, there is much more variety relative to the articles but so many of our utilities have asked for additional payment options throughout the year and we aim to please! Thus, the focus on payments is by design and I’d like to thank you in advance for considering the possibilities afforded by the many options of MyUsage Payments including ease of use and improved customer satisfaction.
So why are options so important? After all, we initially advised each of you that “If you like your options, you can keep your options”. However, we have always offered additional options for those who may be less than pleased or, and primarily, those who were unable to cause payments to post real time in MyUsage.com due to processes or limitations of their CIS system. Understandably, it is critical for MyUsage.com to be made aware of payments posting to CIS as quickly as possible since the balance in MyUsage.com (along with your business rules) determines whether a meter qualifies for disconnection and, conversely, reconnection. Thus options are not only important but mandatory in specific cases.
This is especially important if your utility post payments once or twice daily via batch processing. Imagine the consumer’s dismay if he/she makes a payment at 4pm and the payment is not credited until the following day at noon. Further imagine he/she was “pending disconnection” (account had a negative balance) the day sufficient payment was made to cancel the pending disconnect. Once more, imagine disconnection occurred the next day at 9am prior to the batch payment posting. What is the result? Either customer dissatisfaction or manual intervention meaning a CSR must take action to restore the account and possibly makes manual credit adjustments based on minimum requirements or possibly disconnection fees. All of these concerns and interventions can be eliminated by adopting some of the options via MyUsage Payments with immediate payment posting at the core of each option.
As we recently rolled out MyUsage Payments to Bolivar (see related article) and received initial feedback on this functionality, we are excited to these options implemented at more and more utilities. You have heard me state over and over again that “one size does not fit all”. I firmly believe this – the utility’s business rules, demographics, internal processes and CIS integrations vary drastically and require different options or resolutions to identified issues. Therefore, we have been offering webinars and conference calls specific to payments to help ensure this benefit is understood.
If you would like an in-depth webinar specific to MyUsage Payments, please email me direct and I will schedule a multi-utility webinar as soon as possible so that you have all the necessary information needed to consider or implement MyUsage Payments.
Karen Hutson, Director of Training and Support, Exceleron Software
MyUsage Payments Version 3.0 Release
Exceleron’s expanded MyUsage Payments offers some of the best payment processing rates and service in the industry.
Exceleron Software announced the release of MyUsage Payments Version 3.0, which adds low-cost credit card processing and cash payments at retail locations to the industry-leading solution for convenient, flexible customer payment options. MyUsage Payments expands a utility’s existing set of payment options and makes it easier for utility customers to pay their bills within the MyUsage mobile application and web portal, or at thousands of retail locations nationwide.
Reduction in Bad Debt
MyUsage continues to help utilities eliminate the majority of their bad debt while helping their customers manage their utility spend more effectively. Below is data provided to us by four of our utilities showing debt reductions from between 63% and 95% since the inception of their MyUsage program. The leftmost data point represents their starting point before implementing MyUsage and each successive year shows the resulting % reduction in bad debt. If you have similar successes that you would like to share with us, please do not hesitate to let us know.
From the UAB: UAB Overview
The leaves will be starting to fall soon and that familiar chill is coming in the air. As you prepare for the upcoming holidays, I ask you to spend just a few minutes to consider the User Advisory Board in your 2018 plans. Our Board is only as strong as our commitment to participate in it to help Exceleron provide the Prepaid services we desire for our Customers. We continue to provide them with Customer feedback that has shaped their offerings over the past years.
Our MyUsage conference is quickly approaching and we will be accepting nominations for the Board. I strongly urge you to consider participating as we partner with Exceleron to help drive innovation in 2018. If you’re a power user, love providing feedback and want to help create that Prepaid product your Customers desire. Join the Board and help us see it done!
JEA Manager, Strategic Customer Solutions
Moratorium (RushShelby Energy)
As I sit here in late October looking out my window at a beautiful blue ski and a 65-degree day it is hard to imagine the brutal temperatures of winter that await us just a month or two away. With the cold weather, here in Indiana comes the Winter Moratorium that we in the home heating utilities business must follow.
Some of you know what a winter or summer moratorium is but for those that don’t let me explain. In the winter when the temperatures are regularly lower than 32-degrees and can drop below zero, my state offers an energy assistance program based on income (a.k.a. EAP) to help pay high energy bills for those that qualify. Energy customers go through an acceptance process and once accepted the state will send money directly to the energy company(s) on the qualifying customer’s behalf. The energy company in turn cannot disconnect the energy to this customer’s residence during the “Moratorium Period” which is from December 1 to March 15. The customer in return is “supposed” to try and keep pace with their bill for the rest of the heating season. Once March 15th hits the energy company can follow normal disconnect procedures.
This has been a topic of discussion at many Exceleron conferences and meetings I have been involved in. The questions always come up, “Can prepaid customers get energy assistance” and/or “how do you handle the no disconnect rule during that time?” Well my suggestion is if you have a moratorium program, my state only has a winter moratorium, you need to see if they address prepaid meters. A few years ago, I attended an EAP meeting put on by my state and prepaid metering was just getting started. The question came up asking if prepaid was covered under this program and they weren’t sure how to handle it. After a few weeks of discussion, they made it clear that all customers who qualify for EAP no matter what program you have them on cannot be disconnected during moratorium.
So, what should you do if your state has a similar program? First, make sure your state program does allow prepaid programs to accept energy assistance money and if so what are the rules. If prepaid is part of the program, Exceleron has made it very easy to protect prepaid customers from being disconnected during the moratorium. You need to only do one thing once you receive and have applied the EAP money. Go into the customer’s prepaid account, click on Settings, click on Manage Info and in the Credit Limit put a high amount. We use $5000 as our credit limit amount because no customer has come close to oweing us this much and we don’t have to watch it that closely. By utilizing the credit limit, you are instructing MyUsage not to create a pending disconnect order until the account’s balance surpasses the credit limit. For example, with a $5,000 credit limit, a pending disconnect order will not be created until the balance falls below $5,000 — i.e. negative balance of $5,001 would cause the order to be created.
During this period, customers will continue to get a low balance alert. If they are low or negative they will not be sent a pending disconnect alert and they will not be disconnected. When you get to the end of your moratorium date you just go back in and clear out the credit limit box in the customer’s account and all will go back to normal. We have found that most prepaid customers who received EAP money tend to keep making payments during the winter that keep them in the positive after receiving assistance. For those who do not continue payments and incur substantial debt, we are able to use debt recovery (recently termed “Debt Assist”) to help bring the account current. In this case, the debt is paid prior to the next moratorium being in effect.
If your state has a cold/hot weather rule and it is going to be either cold or hot over an extended period, this setup would work for you too.
Happy winter to you all!!!
Vice President, Administration, RushShelby Energy
Customer Spotlight: Bolivar Energy Authority
Bolivar Energy Authority of Tennessee began using MyUsage in 2013 to launch and manage its prepay program. Like many other utility service providers, Bolivar had been seeking an alternative for customers who were struggling to pay the hefty deposit and connection fees associated with post-pay accounts. Today 12% of Bolivar’s residential customers have prepay accounts, and the prepay program continues to grow.
In an effort to continually improve customer service, Bolivar began using MyUsage Payments in October in order to offer additional, convenient payment options. “We went with Exceleron as our new credit card processor because of the success we’ve had with MyUsage Prepay,” said Bolivar CFO Tony Kirk. He went on to explain that by selecting a bundled solution from Exceleron, Bolivar was able to reduce overall credit card processing and prepay program costs.
“By expanding utilities’ payment options, MyUsage Payments empowers consumers, increases customer satisfaction, improves payment performance, and lowers risks for utility service providers,” said MyUsage Payments Director Tom Jackson. “Our platform helps utilities further expand their payment options with minimal fuss, regardless of whether they offer prepay plans or traditional billing.”
On MyUsage Integration and Rollout
Jackson accompanied Director of Training and Support Karen Hutson during on-site visits during the first two days of MyUsage Payments deployment. “We’re pleased with the smooth rollout of MyUsage Payments,” said Jackson. “In the first 10 days alone, we processed numerous card and eCheck prepay payments for Bolivar.”
“Payments are posting to CSA Orbit in real-time ensuring that the customer’s service is maintained or restored almost immediately when appropriate,” said Hutson. “Prepay users are taking advantage of the full integration of the MyUsage mobile app and MyUsage payments, improving the customer payment experience.”
Bolivar praises the smoothness of the transition. “We rely on great partners like Exceleron to help us create the best experience for our customers while also providing Bolivar with the highest level of support,” said John Fortune, Bolivar’s President and CEO. “Exceleron very quickly integrated the MyUsage Payments solution into our services without disruption so that we could offer our customers some of the most flexible and convenient payment options available in the energy industry.”
Kirk added, “I wish all changes could be this easy. The reports are simple to work with and have made it easy for our employees to balance and post each day. Best of all, it has been an easy transition for our customers.”
On Telling Other Utilities About MyUsage
As an early adopter of MyUsage Payments, Bolivar often meets with other utilities that want to learn more about MyUsage. Marshall-Dekalb Electric Cooperative of Alabama and almost 20 other utilities have visited Bolivar to see firsthand how MyUsage Prepay and MyUsage Payments benefit utility service providers and their customers.
Kirk explained that MyUsage is an “easy sell” once he shows other utilities the numbers. “We’ve collected $150,000 in bad debt that we never would have otherwise collected, we’ve cut our write-offs down to a third of what they used to be, and we’ve spared our customers a rate increase.”
“When I talk to other utilities about MyUsage, I tell them to ‘go for it,’” said Kirk. “It’s an easy transition and it’s a win-win for you and your customers both.”
On the Ease of Making Payments
MyUsage Payments allows Bolivar customers to continue to make payments through all of Bolivar’s existing channels, but it also provides additional, convenient payment options. At present, Bolivar’s customers make payments primarily online and over the phone, but they’re increasingly using the mobile app. Exceleron is also handling Bolivar’s credit card and eCheck processing needs, and soon Bolivar will use MyUsage Payments to accept payments at local Family Dollar stores.
The flexibility in payment and communication options allows utilities to offer something for everyone without being trapped in a one-size-fits-all model. Making payments online and via the mobile app is simple, and customers’ feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
From the utility’s perspective, MyUsage Payments brings additional advantages. “With our previous credit card processor, trying to match the bank statements to our general ledger and customer payments was a nightmare,” said Kirk. “But with MyUsage Payments, we haven’t had any of those problems. Everything’s working perfectly.”
On Working with Exceleron
“Working with Exceleron is easy,” said Kirk. “Exceleron has always focused on what we need, and they make it work. From Day 1, we have not had any issues with their payment processes, and it’s probably the smoothest transition we’ve ever had, with no headaches from worrying about something not working.”
Kirk noted that Exceleron has worked as an extension of Bolivar’s team, responding quickly to requests and making the transition “as simple and painless as possible.”
“Exceleron is a good company that cares about its customers,” continued Kirk. “I like the ease of the transition and how willing Exceleron is to work with us. Everything has worked out very well.’
About Bolivar Energy Authority
Established in 1936, Bolivar Energy Authority serves Tennessee’s Hardeman County and parts of Fayette, Chester, Madison and Benton (MS) counties. Today Bolivar has more than 11,000 electric customers and 1,350 miles of power line. For more information, visit www.bolivarelectric.com
Employee Spotlight: Tom Jackson, Director of MyUsage Payments
The Employee Spotlight provides insight into some of our key employees, such as how long they have been with our company, their talents, their favorite aspects of their job, and what they like to do outside of the office.
With all the excitement around MyUsage Payments, we want to introduce you to one of the masterminds behind the scenes: Tom Jackson. Tom has been guiding the development of MyUsage Payments since January 2017 in a consulting role, and he joined our team on July 1 as the full-time Director of MyUsage Payments.
“We were so pleased when Tom elected to join the Exceleron team,” said COO Jeff Severs. “His vast industry expertise is exactly what Exceleron needed to ensure the success of MyUsage Payments, and our utility customers will appreciate Tom’s knowledge and commitment to customer satisfaction.”
Tom has led Exceleron’s efforts to design and develop card and ACH payments capabilities for mobile, web and IVR platforms. Now he has management responsibility for MyUsage Payments as he prepares marketing and sales materials and continues to manage daily payment operations and relationships with banking partners.
“I’m extremely excited to be part of the Exceleron team and to be able to introduce MyUsage Payments to utility customers,” said Tom. “Not only will Exceleron’s existing prepay customers benefit from an improved customer experience with the full integration of MyUsage Prepay and MyUsage Payments, but also post-pay customers will enjoy a robust offering of electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP).”
Tom notes that all utilities will benefit from the streamlined back-office design. “Simple-to-understand reporting, real-time payment notifications, and consolidated payment deposits will greatly reduce a utility’s time and effort to handle payments using MyUsage Payments,” he said.
Tom is a Certified Management Accountant with an undergraduate degree in accounting and a graduate degree in finance. He has held CFO, controller, and general manager roles for various companies, most recently for Fiserv and Hewlett-Packard.
Outside of the office, Tom enjoys exercising, distance running, fishing, golfing and traveling with his wife.
Partner Spotlight: PayNearMe
We periodically feature our partners in the Prepay Press. If you would like to see your company or organization featured here in a future edition, please send an email to [email protected].
Customer engagement and prepay programs require convenient payment options that allow consumers
to make payments anytime, anywhere. Yet, a recent FDIC survey found that 30% of American households are unbanked or underbanked, which limits their payment options. To better serve these customers, utilities need to accept cash payments at convenient retail locations in local neighborhoods. Exceleron and PayNearMe have partnered to make it easy for customers to pay with cash while they shop as part of their routine.
For the past nine years, PayNearMe has helped consumers conduct financial transactions with cash—and helped businesses serve those consumers. In developing MyUsage Payments, Exceleron has partnered with PayNearMe to provide access to a network of more than 27,000 convenient walk-in payment locations across the country, including CVS Pharmacy, 7-Eleven, Family Dollar, ACE Cash Express, and Casey’s General Stores. This provides utilities with a convenient and efficient way to accept cash at nationally recognized convenience stores with error-free remittance and zero disputes, chargebacks, or returns.
“We are delighted to partner with Exceleron to offer an integrated cash solution for their consumers via the MyUsage accounts,” said Christian Solomine, SVP of Sales at PayNearMe. “We make it safe, easy and convenient for consumers to pay their bills at one of our 27K retail locations nationwide.”
PayNearMe is fully integrated with MyUsage payments, enabling the simple scan of a barcode on paper or a mobile phone at checkout registers. The barcode can be placed on monthly billing statements, pushed to the customer’s smartphone, sent via email by call center staff, or accessed on the MyUsage website or mobile app. The cashier scans the barcode to tender the bill payment for perfect, error-free processing. With no disputes, returns or chargebacks, all bill payment transactions are final, and all funds are guaranteed by PayNearMe.
When utilities embrace MyUsage Payments, they are relying on PayNearMe’s proven technology to digitize their cash collection process, reducing the headache of traditional cash and money order acceptance. PayNearMe eliminates the need to stand in line at the customer service counter, fill out unnecessary forms, or provide government-issued ID.
Once a payment has been made, the customer receives a printed receipt and an electronic receipt sent to his or her smartphone. The MyUsage web portal updates the account status in near real-time, and then utility CSRs can use the portal to review the payment status and the full payment history.
For more information about PayNearMe, visit www.paynearme.com.
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November 6th-9th, 2017
Forth Worth, TX
January 23-25, 2018
San Antonio, TX
EXCELERON USERS CONFERENCE: We will be hosting our Users Conference in the spring of 2018. Exact location and dates will be announced soon.