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Build It and They Will Come
Why e.bill adoption has languished

By Mark Delfeld

 
 


Many companies have recently deployed next generation e.billing and online account management Web sites. A significant number of these firms view their sites as being underutilized. Several factors could account for this including functionality, customer demand and site usability. In most cases, however, these adoption influencers have been addressed more than adequately. Another factor — how the sites have been marketed — usually is not a primary focus of executives reviewing e.billing adoption levels. In many cases, marketing efforts have been suboptimal.

Instead of using traditional marketing techniques, companies should employ a marketing strategy with a sharp focus on achieving specific e.billing goals. All channels need to be creatively utilized and messaging needs to be benefit centric rather than focused on features. Moreover, companies should follow a framework that creates separate tracks for awareness, activation and recurring usage themes. Firms should learn from the missteps of others and employ best practices utilized by those that have been successful.

Why Are Some e.billing Sites Underutilized? Many factors influence the utilization of an e.billing site. The following are some of the most common explanations for a why a site might suffer low adoption:

1. Lack of Functionality Some might point an accusing finger at the site developers and product managers and ask whether the customers have enough functionality available at the site to be helpful and enticing. This supposition usually is not borne out by the facts. Most sites offer the capabilities to not only view information like account data, but also allow the customer to modify the information as well as interact online with the company.

2. Is Demand Missing? Others inquiring might believe that their customer base does not possess a strong demand for e.billing capabilities. This may be true for firms that focus on very small segments like high net worth individuals, but in most cases, customer surveys and focus groups have indicated a strong demand for e.service. In fact, the opposite is true. As more and more customers experience the great online customer service delivered by credit card firms or the likes of Amazon.com (B2C) or Federal Express (B2B), they have become pre-conditioned to have it delivered by all their suppliers.

3. Poor Usability What about poor user interface design? While it may be the case that some sites are failing because of bad design, such concerns would only affect recurring usage statistics. It begs the question of why so few customers have even attempted to enroll at underutilized sites. Are customers sufficiently aware of such sites? If they are aware, has the firm implemented programs with the right messages through the right channels to drive customer and/or intermediary awareness, convince them to act as well as encourage recurring usage? Such questions introduce the last major factor, which is marketing.

4. Marketing as the Culprit In many cases, a good case can be made that marketing efforts have been sub-optimal. You should not immediately place the blame on your marketing staff, however. To some degree, it’s a function of how most e.billing projects are rolled out. In many cases, the marketers have not been given the right direction, the right resources or the latitude to effectively market the e.billing site. Nonetheless, experience and technique do play a major part in whether the launch is successful or not.

Do Traditional Marketing Techniques Suffice? In many cases, only when an e.billing site is just about to launch do firms begin thinking about how to market it. Most do not have marketing plans that parallel the implementation path. Moreover, most marketing efforts are “project”-oriented and conducted by a hybrid team of IT as well as Marcom (marketing communications) professionals. If the firm brings in an e.marketing professional, usually this individual is more schooled in outbound email marketing to prospects than communicating e.billing messages to existing customers. For most of these individuals on the team, it’s the first time they have been involved with efforts to drive users to e.billing sites.

For those firms that do run site-wide marketing campaigns, typically the marketing message is too generic to be effective for e.billing objectives. Think “Go Online!” and you get the idea.

Segmenting and Stuffers… Again Initially, the team’s first thoughts flow to decisions about what customer segments should receive what message. Traditional channels like direct mail and statement stuffers become a major focus. This is all well and good, but traditional approaches have not worked as well as expected.

Some teams tend to think out of the box, however, and actually challenge traditional thinking that customers’ online behaviors can be changed primarily through offline methods. Some question whether traditional segmentation categories really fit the way e.billing should be marketed.

Challenging Traditional Thinking High Rock Consulting, an e.services utilization consulting firm, recommends asking some tough questions:

• Do the marketing professionals on the team understand the cost-savings drivers and how they effect customer-segmenting decisions? • Is the team focused on a generic campaign as opposed to more detailed campaign plans that focus on achieving specific objectives? • Have they created specific benefit measurement standards rather then highly interpretive adoption percentages? • Are ALL channels being used — awareness, activation and recurring use — and for the right usage motivations? ° For example, is a paper-based direct mailer being used for anything other than awareness? ° Are large or important customers targeted with anything but high touch methods? ° Are personalized email alerts being considered in order to promote recurring usage?

Unless the firm has posed and answered questions like these, it is unlikely that great success will come easily. So what strategy should you employ?

Learn from Others The pioneers in the e.billing space didn’t have experience to guide them. More often than not, most of these firms paid close attention to functionality, demand and usability. However, they also developed sophisticated plans to spread awareness, encourage activation and drive recurring usage. They realized that a solid marketing strategy heavily influenced high utilization rates.

For Success, Create This Strategy Follow ABCDE framework as a way to guide your e.billing marketing efforts.

A. Analyze current demand — Completely understand needs of motivations for both internal and external stakeholders through interviews, surveys, focus group, outside research, participative studies, etc.

B. Benefits prioritization and utilization objective definition — Quantify each and every internal and external stakeholder benefit and balance priorities. Map current workflows against projected workflows and tie to motivations. Establish specific adoption goals.

C. Create marketing strategy — Review all resources and customer touch-points to determine effective channels to communicate awareness, activation and recurring usage messages. Perform a technical evaluation from a marketing perspective. Gain stakeholder buy-in.

D. Develop marketing programs in support of the strategy — Form and schedule specific programs according to three tracks: awareness, activation and recurring usage.

E. Execute, monitor and evaluate — Launch programs before the implementation start date and monitor feedback continuously. Revise programs accordingly.

Challenge and Learn By establishing a structured plan, leveraging the practices of successful firms and avoiding the missteps of others, your firm should be able to maximize the utilization of your e.billing sites. While several other factors come into play when predicting a successful launch, no factor is more often overlooked than marketing. A little attention to marketing will go a long way.

 

Mark Delfeld is the founder of High Rock Consulting, a specialized consulting firm that helps firms optimize e.service investments through innovation and insight. He has 15 years of experience in the software industry, working for firms such as PeopleSoft and Softrax.

 
       
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