Why e-mail is still strongest medium for online billing

October 26, 2010  |  Adoption, Electronic Invoicing

This article is part of the co-author series of the EEI Platform. It was originally posted on www.itweb.co.za. The original version of the article can be found at: http://www.itweb.co.za/email-is-still-strongest-medium-for-online-billing

E-mail is far from a dying medium of communication, especially when one speaks of electronic bills, statements and other customer notifications.

E-mail usage continues to increase globally. Although growth rates vary from region to region, this increase goes hand-in-hand with the increased use of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Nielsen published a study, which found that consumers of social media were also the highest consumers of e-mail. In the United States, e-mail usage grew by 21% in 2009 and social media by 31% during the same period.

“It would seem logical that people would also visit more Web portals if they continue to increase their time spent on social networking sites,” says Nicola Els, Head of eBilling at Striata. Web portals can provide a customer with a wealth of information that enables online analysis of billing, payment, historical information such as previous month’s bills and self-service options.

“The fundamental problem with accessing this kind of information online is the initial registration process required, along with the need to enter a username and password each time you visit the portal,” continues Els. “One or two portals seem manageable, but once you translate all of your monthly bills to portals, you end up with a large amount of URLs, usernames, passwords and navigations on each site to wade through – not to mention remembering to view these bills each month. This is one of the compelling reasons why companies do not achieve a ROI when trying to convert paper-based customers to portal registrants.”

How can this process be simplified, yet still provide value for the customer, and how can the supplier drive faster payments and improve cash flow?

According to Els, it is important to remember that people are inherently lazy and tend to react better to information that is pushed to them. E-mailing an interactive eBill attachment to a customer and enabling them to view, sort, analyse, query and submit payment from within this secure e-mail attachment is first prize. All required action can be performed from within the bill, thereby retaining the customers’ attention and making the call to action ie, payment, available in one click.

Supporters of portal billing argue that the majority of e-mail sent to inboxes is spam, yet they e-mail bill notifications to their users. Recently Symantec released statistics indicating that 92% of e-mail is spam. However, spam filters are catching 90% of this, leaving very little in the inbox. As inboxes become more intelligent, as in the case of Gmail’s priority inbox, spam e-mail communications are now being pushed to the bottom of the queue. Furthermore, ISPs are continually improving their criteria, regulating what mail is allowed to land in the consumer’s inbox, before the inbox even starts its intelligent (algorithm driven) work.

“Sending bulk communications like eBills from supplier to customer is not a simple job, there is much to be considered regarding deliverability and authentication. Striata has the necessary specialists and technology to cater for these requirements. We believe that every message counts and are able to boast high delivery rates that ensure our client’s e-mails penetrate their customer’s inbox,” says Els.

Interactivity on marketing communications has continued to increase with the introduction of social media sharing options on these e-mails. GetResponse’s E-mail marketing and social media integration report suggests that this is a worthwhile tactic for increasing e-mail reach. The study of 500 million e-mails showed that including three or more social sharing icons increased average click-through rates from 7.2% to 11.2%.

Even with alleged high spam rates, the majority of banking and financial institutions in South Africa continue to send e-mail communication, in the form of marketing and statements, to their customers. This is an obvious translation that e-mail is still being read and continues to provide a valuable channel of communication to the customer and this is unlikely to change in the near future as they continue to enjoy the interactivity available on these communications.

Source: ITweb

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