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August 2004 Contents

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E-Bill Usability

by Daniel Szuc and Gerry Gaffney

Summary

People are increasingly relying on web channels to check on their billing relationship with companies.

The problem: Not all billing applications present information that’s easy to navigate and action. Based on recent work on an eBill application, this article discusses the issues and findings to consider when presenting online billing information.

Opening an envelope to read a bill and paying by cheque or at a shop are simple and familiar activities. eBilling needs to replicate this degree of ease of use if it is to have mass appeal.

Access to online billing information has real benefits for the business:

  • Reduction of churn as customers become dependent on the convenience of eBilling
  • Reduction of paper billing costs as customers choose to use eBilling
  • Reduction of payment handling fees to third parties as customers can pay the company directly

For the business to achieve these benefits there are several requirements that need to be met:

  • Usability, enabling customers to use the online channel effectively and efficiently
  • Clear customer value proposition
  • Reliability that at least matches the offline medium

Issues

After observing users work with eBill we noted the following issues:

  • eBill Benefits – Not communicated to customers clearly up front.
  • Summary information - Customers requested to see summary information first then have the ability to drill into detail.
  • Terminology – Customers did not understand some terms including data that was being presented from the legacy system.
  • Service Names – Did not always make sense. The customer’s only choice was to call Customer Support.
  • Payment – Companies do not always make it easy for the customer to pay. The functionality is either not positioned optimally in the workflow or it’s hidden.
  • Paper Bill Relationship – Billing information is sometimes copied directly from the paper bill onto eBill without careful consideration about its use or meaning to the customer. There is an argument that says both should be near identical, whereas another point of view is that the electronic medium should be used to full advantage rather than slavishly following the printed bill.
  • Pop Up Windows – Pop up windows reduce trust distracting users from the task.

Findings & food for thought …

  • Basic features - Deliver basic features first. eBilling applications can become complex, however it does not mean that customers require or appreciate additional complexity.
  • eBill Application - eBilling should probably be treated as a stand alone application. Non-core elements (including browser controls and site navigation) should be removed.
  • Limited or no advertising - Advertising should be avoided as customers are visiting and focused on completing tasks.
  • Quick payments - Customers should be able to pay their bill without having to log in i.e. just by entering their phone number, credit card details and amount.
  • Trust - Customers need a clear indication that transactions are secure.
  • Printing – Provide easy Bill printing and other critical functions like payment receipts.

Attracting people to use an online channel like eBilling, it must provide a secure environment, clear benefits and be noticeably more convenient than existing billing methods. Otherwise people will get frustrated, rely on ways they are used to and it will ultimately defeat the purpose of true billing online self service.

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