The COVID-19 pandemic is having severe effects on people’s lives: the economy is suffering, people are losing their jobs, and social distancing is still the norm. Some of your utility customers who have been paying their bills via checks or walk-in centers are likely moving to digital bill payment for the first time. Make it easy for customers to find and use this feature so that you can increase long-term adoption of online bill payment and gain cost savings while helping these customers during a difficult time.

Make a Payment is one your hardest-to-find website features

For the 2019 Website Benchmark, we asked reviewers to find 11 utility website features, including Make a Payment. For other important features such as Contact Us, Outages or Emergencies, and My Account, reviewers found them nearly 100% of the time. But for Make a Payment, reviewers found the feature only about 81% of the time, meaning about 20% of reviewers were unsuccessful. Top-performing utilities had success rates of about 91% for Make a Payment, but like all features, you should aim for a 100% findability success rate.

Learn more about the E Source Website Benchmark

We’ve been conducting the Website Benchmark, otherwise known as the E Source Website Benchmark, every two years since 2002. Through it, we benchmark roughly 100 utility websites to gauge how successful they are in serving residential customers. We rate the usability and availability of websites from both a computer and a mobile device on a variety of key features, including those accessed on the public side as well as on the secure side of the site. Our study has quickly become the industry standard for assessing website improvements as they relate to customers’ contact preferences.

Visit our Market research page for more information on all of our E Source studies.

How to improve the findability of your online Make a Payment feature

We developed the following design advice based on the 2019 Website Benchmark top performers and our expertise. This advice applies to both desktop computers and mobile devices, unless otherwise noted.

  • Design Make a Payment navigation that’s clickable from every page of the website (both secure and public).
  • Use a Google sitelink with an action title like “Make a Payment” for speed and convenience.
  • Place the first step of the payment process on the secure account summary page (figure 1).
  • Provide a link on the home page to a page that details all the ways customers can make a payment. Include the most important information for each payment option, such as fees and types of credit cards or bank accounts accepted.
  • Clearly delineate between payment options that are available to one-time guests and payment options that require a login.
  • Display separate links for viewing a bill and making a payment.

Figure 1: TXU Energy includes the payment form on the logged-in MyAccount Summary page

TXU was a top performer in the 2017 E Source Website Benchmark, especially for its Make a Payment feature on desktop. Once logged in, TXU customers immediately see the payment section, with a prefilled, but adjustable, payment date and payment amount. Customers can also choose a saved payment method or add a new one from the same section. Please note TXU may have changed its website design since we recorded this video in 2017. (This video has no sound.)

How to make the online payment experience seamless for all your customers

Repeal credit card payment fees at least temporarily. Eliminating credit and debit card fees improves the customer experience, decreases the payment burden on customers already struggling to pay bills, and provides customers with a low-effort means to pay their utility bill. Push for an emergency removal of fees during COVID-19 if your utility hasn’t done so already.

If you can’t remove credit card fees, offer an incentive so customers don’t have to pay them. Offer a fee-free credit card payment to customers who sign up for paperless billing or enroll in an online account. You’re more likely to successfully argue for a removal of fees if your utility also receives a benefit.

At the very least, make it clear what online payment options don’t include additional fees. If you offer fee-free payments from a checking or savings account, include content to make that clear to customers before they begin the online payment process.

If you’d like more advice on utility website design, please contact us. We’re here to help.