Email invoices falling away

Web-based online Self-Service is eclipsing email as the electronic channel of choice for delivering statements, bills and invoices to customers because it offers a richer user experience and a more secure environment than email

September 17, 2010

By Kevin Meltzer, Business Development Director at Consology

Web-based online Self-Service is eclipsing email as the electronic channel of choice for delivering statements, bills and invoices to customers because it offers a richer user experience and a more secure environment than email.

Kevin Meltzer, Business Development Director at Consology, says that current marketplace trends point towards email losing favour as a channel for communicating sensitive information both among consumers and companies. One major reason for this is that email is no longer seen as a trusted channel. The battle for email communications has been dominated by spammers and phishing. A recent report by the global anti-virus company Symantec says spam made up 92% of all worldwide electronic messages sent in July 2010.

In addition, more and more online users – particularly teens and young working adults – are embracing highly interactive Web 2.0 services such as Facebook and Twitter over email as their preferred means of communicating with friends, families and even companies they deal with. Electronic communication has shifted and email has been left behind.

Says Meltzer: “Over the past few years, email has become so bedevilled by security issues such as phishing, spam, malware and scams that service providers such as banks are telling customers not to trust anything they receive in their mailboxes. Email is not the world of legitimate business anymore: the spammers and scammers have won.”

“Corporate firewalls often shred legitimate communications such as bills and statements before they reach customers,” adds Meltzer. Concerns about malware and phishing mean responsible companies can no longer ask their users to click on links in emails, open any attachments or make use of interactive features in the email.

“That means email becomes a static medium that adds no value beyond the paper bill. For an increasing portion of Internet users, email is just not good enough anymore. By contrast, the Web portal model allows companies to offer a range of value-added services alongside bill presentment and payment in a secure online environment,” says Meltzer.

For example, information-rich bills such as cellular accounts contain a wealth of data. Online account management through a Web portal can allow users to group and chart information, manipulate data, or look up past statements. That functionality can be very powerful for corporate customers – they could pull up details of their highest spending users from their cellular network’s portal.

“But the promise of the Web as a service channel goes far beyond billing,” says Meltzer. “Once companies start to present bills to customers through an online portal, they can begin transitioning to an online Self-Service model that allows customers to carry out many tasks online at their convenience.” Customers of a cellular network could apply to migrate from one cellular package to another, update their address details, activate new services or log and track a support request.

“Each time a customer does one of these tasks online, he or she is taking the pressure of a phone call off your contact centre. Customers also like to help themselves and love the transparency of online Self-Service,” says Meltzer.

Initially email made sense as the primary communications channel between companies and customers when most users were using slow dial-up connections and were billed for phone usage per minute online. Now that many users have access to high-speed, always-on broadband connections, they are gravitating towards the rich functionality of Web portals rather than the static medium of email.

Meltzer says that many companies are still thinking about online billing as a way to achieve cost-savings for companies by removing paper and postage from their billing process. But the real value of the online channel comes from getting customers to answer questions and perform transactions themselves rather than picking up the phone to call you.

“In industries such as telecoms, 60-80% of call centre enquiries are related to account issues such a customer disputing a bill or requesting that copies of the past year’s statements are faxed to him or her,” says Meltzer. An online portal can allow a customer to download historical statements or initiate a bill dispute in a process that is cheaper to the service provider than telephonic support and more convenient for the customer.

Online banking is an excellent form of Self-Service and an example of how online Web service will soon revolutionise other industries. “If your bank said it would no longer send you your statements by email, you probably wouldn’t care,” Meltzer says. “But if it told you it was shutting down its online banking portal you’d probably start looking for a new bank the minute you heard the news.” It is obvious which the preferred choice is and where the industry is moving to.