One of the most interesting developments during the coronavirus pandemic was a change in consumer expectations that extended beyond the private sector. People that discovered new ways to conduct meetings, shop for supplies, and order from restaurants – and now have new expectations for future services and purchases – also changed their expectations for government payments and services. Just like stores or restaurants that lose customers by not adding curbside pickup and contact-free delivery, they risk losing citizen satisfaction.
In other words, now that citizens know they can avoid the DMV line by going online, they may never return. In the future, they will likely check to see if online alternatives are available for their payments and services, and if not, they will wonder why. The options discovered during the crisis changed their expectations forever. However, the pressure to offer more digital options creates opportunities and benefits that extend far beyond an improved consumer experience. Digitization of payment and billing not only offers a seamless experience for citizens – it also saves time and money through cost and operational efficiencies.
State and municipal governments faced some of the same challenges as private businesses when COVID-19 swept through the nation. Buildings shut down and employees set up remote offices, yet citizens still needed their government services. And just like private businesses, some government entities were better positioned to service consumers and process payments in the new environment than others.
For some, providing services online and over the phone only required minimal adjustments – especially if they had a robust website and already accepted digital payments. For others, simply processing paper payments created major challenges, scanning checks or using a digital lockbox to make deposits while reconciling and reporting manually.
Yet that effort became necessary, because people changed their habits. Even when lockdowns ended, people moved away from crowded places and toward contactless payments.
“You don't want to stand in line with 20 other people and hope they are social distancing. You don’t want to touch the paper that they touched or the pen they used to sign,” says Lucy Diasio, Senior Vice President and Group Product Manager for Digital Receivables at U.S. Bank. “We’ve seen the volume of online payments shoot up across the board.”
For state and local governments, the most comprehensive solution to citizens’ desire to move from “in line” to “online” is electronic bill presentment and payment (EBPP). As the name suggests, EBPP systems provide end-to-end support throughout the bill pay process, including alerts and communication, self-service options, multiple payment methods (including ACH and credit cards) and multiple communication channels (from phone to computer to text).
These full-service websites are made for managing regular, periodic billing, like utilities payments, but are also ideal for individual transactions, like tax payments, or online license transactions – including pets licenses, hunting fees or the DMV.
The consumer benefits of an EBPP seem obvious:
In addition to improving citizen satisfaction, full-service digital billing and payment systems also create cost and operational efficiencies at a time that government entities are facing declining budgets.
“Updating how you process payments is a win-win for both government agencies and citizens. It can reduce operational costs and help you do more with less,” Diasio says. “Less time spent by staff responding to inbound payment inquiries by phone and email. Less balancing and reconciling. And reporting will become more automated, which also helps free up staff to work on other activities and projects that benefit the public. You can even encourage timely payer behavior with integrated communications and reminders.”
In fact, the efficiency and communication that are built into EBPP systems address one of the most common pain points for government entities – getting paid on time and accurately.
“You can't control when the consumer mails the payment or walks in to pay you,” Diasio says. “You just have to hope and pray that they pay you on time, and that they pay you period.”
Instead, EBPPs eliminate time as a variable. The consumer has control over their payment, creating the timeframe for it to be processed. Yet the biller has visibility into the payment process, and funds are available from that payment no more than a day later.
“They can send a notification that doesn’t just say ‘your bill is overdue,’ it says ‘click here to pay it.’ So there’s more control over contacting the payer to get them to pay it outright,” she says. “The time and effort involved in the credit and collections process can be reduced dramatically.“.
One feature of modern billing technology is ease of use for both the consumer and the biller. As you might expect, the all-in-one platform is built to make it simple for the consumer to understand and use, but the end-to-end design also makes it easy for the biller to implement.
“It replaces so many manual functions, but it’s really simple from the biller’s perspective,” Diasio explains. “Because it’s all built into one platform, it’s really all set up. They don’t have to program anything. They just have to connect us in some way.”
Connecting with the right payments partner can make all the difference in the success of your modernization effort. Contact us to learn how we help government agencies maximize payments with our full-service, electronic bill presentment and payment solution.