Reducing bill shock through design and testing

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Written by: VertexOne
Bill shock. We’ve all experienced it. You receive a bill and let out a curse when you see that the amount due is WAY higher than expected. Research has found that “a high bill is something that 40% of customers reported experiencing during the past 12 months and a full 72% of those customers admitted was a source of anxiety”. Through user testing and research, WaterSmart has found 3 essential approaches to decrease anxiety and increase customer satisfaction:
  1. Present the right information at the right time
  2. Allow customers opportunities to explore
  3. Empower users with a strong foundation of data. 
Balancing information overload for Goldilocks 
In a 2015 studyOPower found that “between 30 and 50 percent of calls are about billing.” WaterSmart strives to decrease the volume of bill related calls with the introduction of our first-of-its-kind Bill Explainer solution. The interactive wizard proactively encourages customers to investigate and understand the primary drivers of their bill amount before they pick up the phone to call their utility. We started our design journey by collecting feedback and testing designs internally. 
As we began design of this innovative new capability, we started with internal, cross-department testing and found that users were more likely to complete the resolution flow when we reduced the number of causes for a high bill. Presenting 7 possibilities left the users feeling overwhelmed while 3 possible causes left them wanting more. 4 to 5 options was juuuust right. It gave the user enough information to be satisfied with the resolution flow while still being able to complete the process within a reasonable amount of time and without feeling inundated with too much information.  
Give users the opportunity to explore 
After internal testing, we moved to remote testing with real users. Remote testing allows users to interact with design concepts online and participate within a familiar, comfortable environment. Users are asked to look at an interactive mockup and provide feedback on their experience with the interface. Overall users were satisfied with the resolution flow and the information being presented, but we noticed users were scrolling and hovering over the mockup for several seconds at a time. When asked what they were looking for, they said they were searching for more ways to explore previous bills, bill settings, and other bill options. Never underestimate a customer's curiosity to explore and learn! We updated the design and found that placing a menu list beside the resolution tool increased page discoverability and click throughs.  
Create a strong foundation driven by data
We then reached out to our utility partners to talk about their customer call experiences. We wanted to understand how we could build an interface that integrates well with current customer practices. Through these interviews, we discovered that utility staff first encourage users to compare their bill to the same period in the prior year. This helps normalize expectations since many perceived high bills are due to seasonal irrigation. This feedback led us to show customers a yearly bill comparison as the first step of the resolution experience. Users presented with a year-to-year comparison had an increased understanding of irrigation habits and a better perspective of what a “normal” bill was for that season. 
In addition, other insights gathered from utility interviews included the leading causes for high bills. Over-irrigation and improper irrigation controller settings are the leading causes for increased consumption followed by leaks and rate increases. This gave our team a better understanding of what information to provide customers during the resolution process, and what order we should present them in.
Ultimately, utilities that implement information technologies to improve customer experiences also improve insight on water use see significantly higher approval ratings. This is where WaterSmart shines. We offer an engagement platform that provides customers with an improved user experience. The platform is built on the foundations of user feedback and data. Offering a great user experience gives utilities an opportunity to create a positive impression on their customers, even after a bout of bill shock. 
VertexOne is the recognized leader in SaaS platforms for critical business processes of utilities across North America. Through a wide range of innovative services and solutions —including the VertexOne CompleteTM SaaS Solution for Utilities comprised of the Customer Information System (CIS), Mobile Workforce Management (MWM), Meter Data Management (MDM), Digital Customer Engagement and Customer Self Service, and now the addition of WaterSmart solutions and services—VertexOne helps utilities more efficiently deliver a compelling customer experience; reducing the cost to serve customers, increasing operational efficiency, improving customer satisfaction, and driving utility operations forward. VertexOne takes on the heavy lifting of keeping current with the rapid pace of technology changes through our VertexOne CompleteTM SaaS offering, so utilities don’t have to—leaving our customers more time to focus on core utility business while leaving the technology to us.

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