In this report, we explore the results from the 2018 E Source Digital Metrics Survey on billing and payment interactions. Our findings will allow you to compare your utility’s billing and payment interactions to those of your peers.

Top trends in utility billing and payment interactions

More customers are choosing paperless billing. All utilities in the study reported offering paperless billing as an option for customers. The average paperless billing adoption rate for all customer segments in 2018 was 25%, up from 19% reported in 2016. The maximum paperless billing rate reported in 2018 was 41%. Paperless billing adoption is higher among residential accounts than it is among business accounts.

E-billing adoption and electronic payments are increasing. In 2018, the average paperless billing adoption rate for all customer segments was 25%, and electronic payments accounted for 69% of total payments, on average.

More utilities offer recurring bank account payments than recurring credit or debit card payments. All utilities in the study reported offering recurring bank account payments, but only nine utilities reported offering recurring credit or debit card payments. On average, 19% of utility accounts have enrolled in automatic recurring bank account payments, up from 14% reported in 2016. Some utilities saw adoption rates at 25% or more. Five of the nine utilities that offer automatic recurring credit or debit card payments reported adoption rates ranging from 0.2% to 10.0%.

A majority of customers pay their bills electronically. Electronic payments account for 69% of total payments, up from 60% reported in 2016. Payments via Automated Clearing House (ACH), electronic funds transfer (EFT), and electronic data interchange (EDI) account for the highest percentage of total payments by tender type. Most utilities charge customers a fee for electronic payments by bank or credit card.

Customers enroll in email alerts for billing- and payment-related information. On average, 10% or more of accounts have enrolled in billing- and payment-related email alerts to notify customers when their bill is ready to view, when it’s due, and when a payment has posted. Most utilities see less than 10% of accounts enrolled in billing- and payment-related text alerts. “Your bill is ready to view” alerts have higher enrollment rates than other alerts like “Past-due notice.”

Who enrolls in paperless billing?

All 27 utilities that responded to the 2018 survey said that they offer paperless billing as an option for customers, and 26 of the utilities provided data to calculate the percentage of accounts enrolled (Figure 1). The average paperless billing rate for all customer segments was 25%, up from an average of 19% reported in 2016. The maximum paperless billing rate reported in 2018 was 41%.

Figure 1: Paperless billing adoption is increasing

The average paperless billing rate reported in 2018 for all customer segments was 25%, up from an average of 19% reported in recent years.
In 2012, the average paperless billing adoption rate was 13%, 2013 was 16%, 2014 was 19%, 2016 was 19%, and 2018 was 25%

Each of the 18 utilities that provided data by customer type reported higher paperless billing adoption rates for residential customers than for business customers (Figure 2). On average, 9 in 10 paperless billing accounts are residential and about 1 in 10 is a business account. Utilities reported a 28% paperless billing adoption rate among residential accounts and an 18% adoption rate among business accounts—both up from the numbers reported in 2016 (23% and 11%, respectively)—though some utilities reported having closer to 40% of residential and business accounts enrolled in paperless billing.

Figure 2: More residential accounts enroll in paperless billing than business accounts do

Overall, paperless billing adoption is up to 25%, on average, an increase from previous years. Twenty-eight percent of residential accounts and 18% of business accounts are enrolled in e-billing.
25% of accounts, on average, are enrolled in paperless billing (n = 26), 28% of residential accounts (n = 18) and 18% of business accounts (n = 18)

What automatic payment channels do utilities offer?

All 27 utilities that responded to the survey reported offering recurring bank account payments, but only 9 reported offering recurring credit or debit card payments. On average, 19% of accounts have enrolled in automatic recurring back account payments, up from 14% reported in 2016. Some utilities saw adoption rates at 25% or more.

Only 1% of accounts, on average, have enrolled in recurring credit or debit card payments (note that 23 utilities provided data, and those that didn’t offer this payment option were included as 0%). Of the nine utilities that reported offering this payment option, five provided the number of accounts enrolled (Figure 3). The average adoption rate among these five utilities is 3%, with rates ranging from 0.2% to 10.0%.

Figure 3: Recurring credit or debit card payment adoption rates vary

Five of the nine utilities that offer recurring credit or debit card payments provided data for adoption rates, which range from 0.2% to 10.0%.
Utility 1 saw .2% adoption, utility 2 saw .3%, utility 3 saw 1%, utility 4 saw 4%, and utlity 5 saw 10%

What’s the most common way customers pay their bills?

Utilities receive about two-thirds of payments via electronic channels and one-third of payments via nonelectronic channels, on average. Since 2016, utilities have seen an increase in payments made via electronic methods (60% reported in 2016 and 28% in 2018) and a decrease in payments made via bulk-processed checks (32% in 2016 and 26% in 2018), indicating that customers are moving to more-automated forms of payment (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Customers are moving to more-automated forms of payment

Customers have been increasingly paying their utility bills through electronic channels in recent years, at 69% on average—up from 60% reported in 2016. Of the electronic payment methods, automatic and website payments are the most prominent channels. Bulk-processed paper checks continue to be the most common nonelectronic method of payment.
33% of payments come in via web payments (biller direct or third party), 32% come in via autopay and other electronic payment methods, 4% come in via phone (IVR), 26% come in via paper checks (bulk processed), and 6% come in via agent-assisted payments. 69% of payments come in via electronic channels and 32% come in via nonelectronic channels

What are the most common payments by tender type?

Utility customers are moving to more-automated forms of payment. Electronic payments via ACH, EFT, and EDI account for the highest percentage of total payments by tender type, at 55% on average, up from 49% reported in 2016. Some utilities reported receiving 90% of all payments via this tender type.

Payments made using a credit or debit card (or electronic bank card) are at 8%, on average, up slightly from 7% reported in 2016. Some utilities experience rates as high as 25%, and others receive less than 1% of payments via this tender type.

Nonelectronic payments have decreased slightly from 36% reported in 2016 to 32% reported in 2018, although some utilities experience 90% of payments via this tender type.

Do utilities charge customers a fee for electronic bank card or credit card payments?

Most utilities (20 of the 27 responding to the survey) reported charging customers a fee for credit or debit card payments. Utilities that charge a standard fee for online credit or debit card payments charge on average US$2.00 to US$2.50 for residential accounts and US$19 to US$20 for business accounts.Utilities that charge a standard fee reported charging on average US$2.00 to US$2.50 for residential accounts and US$19 to US$20 for business accounts, with some utilities charging as much as US$30 in fees.

Some utilities don’t charge residential customers but charge business customers a specific fee per $1,000, or they only charge commercial customers if their total payment is over a specific dollar amount. Others charge a flat percentage of the payment or a higher percentage for credit card payments than for debit card payments.

What channels are customers using for billing alerts?

Email alerts have higher enrollment rates than text and voice for billing- and payment-related matters (Figure 5). Utilities reported that 10% or more of accounts have enrolled in billing- and payment-related email alerts like “Your bill is ready to view,” “Your bill is due in X days,” and “Payment posted.” In general, utilities see less than 10% of accounts, on average, enrolled in billing- and payment-related text alerts.

Figure 5: For billing and payment alerts, email is more common than text and voice

A higher percentage of accounts have enrolled in email alerts than voice and text alerts for billing- and payment-related matters. “Your bill is ready to view” has the highest enrollment rates compared with other alerts like “Past-due notice.” Other alerts utilities have implemented include meter-reading reminders, balanced billing change, payment failed, or payment scheduled.
Channel Notification Number of utilities offering the channel and providing data (n) Average percentage of accounts enrolled
Base: Number of utilities offering the channel and providing data (n varies). Question: If offered, please indicate the number of accounts that were enrolled in each of the following billing- and payment-related alerts by channel (email, text message, voice) as of December 31, 2017. Notes: Percentages shown in the table are based on utilities offering the channel and providing data. Some utilities don’t offer the channel or don’t track outage alert enrollments. © E Source (2018 Digital Metrics Survey)
EmailYour bill is ready to view1521
Your bill is due in X days1215
Payment posted910
Past-due notice75
Other75
TextYour bill is ready to view811
Your bill is due in X days92
Payment posted72
Past-due notice61
Other74
VoiceYour bill is ready to view60
Your bill is due in X days60
Payment posted60
Past-due notice60
Other60

More E Source research on billing and payments

You need to provide customers with a smooth and seamless experience for billing and payment interactions, including making a payment, online bill viewing, and alerts. To continue to drive self-service and low-cost digital billing and payment interactions, reference our reports:

  • Utility Website Design Guide: Make a Payment
  • Utility Website Design Guide: Online Bill Viewing
  • There’s Still Room for Growth in Your Paperless Billing Program: How to Increase E-billing Adoption
  • How to Market Online Services to Boost Residential Web Engagement

Study details

The Digital Metrics Survey compares utility metrics on customers’ use of digital contact channels for key journeys and other digital activities, including outages, payments, and moving.

We conducted the billing and payments section of the Digital Metrics Survey in August and September 2018, and we received responses from 27 utilities across the US and Canada. We calculated metrics based on utility data from calendar year 2017. Throughout the report, we labeled data with the year the survey was conducted.

Each utility provides only what it’s able to track, which may result in no response or a “don’t know” response. Utilities that don’t offer a particular channel are included in the average metric calculation as 0%. We didn’t include “don’t know” responses in the average. For these reasons, some overall averages may not total to 100%. Throughout the report, we note how many utilities are included in the calculation for a particular metric, and in many cases we provide a breakdown of this data to emphasize how the metric was calculated and the actual base size for the calculated metric. On occasion, we show only the metrics that are based on those utilities that offer the channel.

When comparing trends over time, it’s important to remember that sample sizes and participating utility characteristics differ between years. Therefore, data is directional in nature.

Contributing Authors

Director, Market Research

Rachel Cooper is responsible for strategic planning, account engagement, team management, and project execution. She manages and oversees the...

Senior Analyst, Customer Engagement Solutions

Keenan Samuelson focuses on strategies to enhance the utility customer experience. He spends the majority of his time researching how to optimize...