‘Brown envelope anxiety’ (or its digital equivalent ‘bill email anxiety’) is what happens when your customers see a bill from you. (Conveniently, both can be shortened to BEA.)
It doesn’t matter if the bill is as expected or not. Customers are now programmed to dread them. This is a huge problem for communications service providers (CSPs) seeking to engage customers and increase satisfaction. (See: In the industry-formerly-known-as-telecoms the customer is still not king)
The causes of this anxiety are partly outside a CSP’s control, such as a customer being under financial stress. But many of the contributing factors are within the CSP’s control.
The problem of bill-related anxiety and how it impacts on customer experience and satisfaction is a big deal in normal circumstances. But this issue now needs to be high on every CSP’s agenda.
That’s because we’re faced with an event that goes far beyond a micro event such as bill shock (which affects one or a small number of customers). What’s coming is, by comparison, a billquake – a macro event set to affect a large number of customers who will inevitably react by becoming upset, angry or frustrated. And then call you.
This billquake is going to start in the autumn when a significant tranche of customers come under financial stress. Furlough schemes and short-time working programs will start coming to an end. People who have used credit to bridge the shortfall in their incomes will find it is running out. Many people will find themselves unemployed or underemployed. As households come under pressure they will have to review their spending. And while they will still regard communications as an essential service, they may have difficulty paying – resulting in increased stress.
Traditionally, CSPs have focused on the short-term. On getting money in quickly. On new customers. What they’re now challenged with is walking-the-walk of loyalty and showing long-standing, loyal customers some understanding and support during a difficult and unprecedented situation. This means focusing on longer-term strategic goals – maintaining brand image, retaining customers and their goodwill.
How CSPs deal with those in hardship will be critical to both their brand image and their future success.
They could decide to help by enabling those under financial stress to pay bills over a longer period of time. They might tear up contracts and allow customers to have the flexibility to shift to smaller packages that better reflect their needs and their current finances. Such an approach will help them retain their customers and their goodwill, rather than incurring additional costs and bad publicity from chasing customers for payments they can’t afford.
What CSPs cannot do is threaten reasonable and loyal customers with negative consequences for not paying promptly. Or insist on contracts that no longer make financial sense. Or cut off customers under stress without at least attempting to find a compromise.
How CSPs communicate is just as important as what they communicate. It must be clear, understandable and the tone must be conciliatory and supportive rather than officious, harsh and threatening.
The billquake is coming whatever CSPs do; because that is outside their control. What they can control is how they deal with it. Spending large amounts of money on marketing aimed at attracting new customers isn’t wise when, at the same time, existing customers are struggling and unhappy. There has never been a more important time to focus on and build loyalty. And that starts with billing communications.
Smart CSPs are working on this issue now. They’re well aware that they need to mend their ways by improving their bills and customer communications. Most of them intend to invest in their bills so they’re easier to change and so they support customer care and marketing goals.
To find out more about what your rivals are doing, download a copy of this complimentary paper (PDF): Effective Digital Billing For Service Provider Success