If you‘ve noticed shorter lines at your branch locations lately and a dwindling of check payments in the mail, you’re on to one of the most significant and fast-growing trends of COVID-19: a surge in remote bill payments.
According to a recent MasterCard survey, more than 51 percent of U.S. consumers said they were using some sort of contactless payment, and 30 percent of those are doing it for the first time, due to COVID-19.
Even more relevant to the banking industry, 24 percent of customers are using bank and credit union branches less, or have stopped bank and credit union visits altogether, according to Boston Consulting Group.
What does that mean for the financial industry and your bank or credit union in particular? For one, it means you need to run, not walk, toward a robust remote payment system friendly to both your customers and your customer service staff. Set aside short-term emergency processes from early-pandemic and start working toward a consistent and comprehensive long-term strategy. And as you do, consider these four common questions PayNearMe hears from our remote payment platform users:
1. Should I nudge my customers toward remote pay and autopay?
Pressure, no; encourage, yes. Remote bill payment offers huge benefits for the customers, who will gain the freedom to pay their bills wherever, whenever and however they want. No waiting in lines. No rushing to beat closing time. It’s convenient and adaptable. For the bank or credit union, remote payments save in time, personnel costs and risk involved in collecting cash.
You can nudge your customers toward remote and auto pay participation by including reminders and suggestions in any and all communications: on every bill, every email, text and push notification. When interacting with customers, have the agent ask: “For your convenience, may I help you set up remote or auto payment today?”
Of course, the process to pay remotely must be easy, with as few steps as necessary. New technologies have offered creative solutions for this. For example, some clever banks and credit unions print a unique QR code on every bill, which allows customers to scan the code with their phone and pay immediately with a few simple clicks. This is an easy way to bridge the gap between offline and online payment habits.
When a customer calls to pay by phone, the agent can offer to push a text or email to the customer with a link to register for auto pay. The agent should stay on the line while the customer completes and verifies the process to make sure the process goes smoothly.
2. What payment options should I offer my customers?
No surprise here. The answer is any and all remote payment options your customers like to use – including cash. The reason that’s necessary is that payment methods and platforms vary significantly based on demographics.
Seventy-eight percent of cash-pay customers still want or need to make bill payments using cash, even during COVID-19, according to PayNearMe user data. You can accommodate them by allowing customers to pay bills with cash at retail locations where they regularly shop, including 7-Eleven and CVS Pharmacy stores. They simply use a reusable bar code sent by the bank or credit union via text message.
Other customers are gravitating toward mobile pay. A survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 56 percent of respondents had paid a bill by mobile phone in the past year, 74 percent of them members of Generation X or younger (born after 1964). In contrast, 62 percent of those who used credit cards to pay were Baby Boomers or older (born from 1946-1964).
You’ll find similar differences if you look at education levels, distance from bank branches, access to Internet or native English speakers versus English learners. Many payers like the familiarity of paying with a credit card, while a growing number use Google Pay or Apple Pay.
To ensure the greatest participation by your customers, it’s important to address all customer preferences, and that should not be difficult if you’re using a proven payment platform designed for remote payments and collections.
3. How do I meet compliance obligations while my call center staff is dispersed?
We all can agree on one thing related to the new work-from-home situation: it’s part wonderful and part challenging. Compliance falls into the challenging category, because home-based workers have no physical supervision and may lack all the tools and training they need to comply with complex PCI and Nacha regulations.
Let’s consider two common scenarios and workarounds that might help:
Scenario 1: A customer wants to pay over the phone using a credit or debit card.
Have your agents encourage self-pay so they don’t need to collect credit or debit card numbers. Agents can offer to send a link by email, then walk the customer through completing the transaction over the phone. “Do you see the link I just sent you in an email? Okay, click on that link and you should see your payment screen come up…”
The other option is to build an interactive voice response system that will prompt self-pay before the customer reaches a live representative. A well-developed IVR can help customers complete a payment by phone without talking to a live representative.
Scenario 2: A customer wants help setting up autopay.
The agent can complete the autopay setup and then send the customer a text or email to add payment information and authorize the payment independently. This novel solution removes the Nacha requirement related to recording calls.
4. How do I keep both my remote customers and remote workers engaged?
Let’s tackle your workers first. The main obstacles getting in the way of employee productivity and engagement during COVID-19 are stress and lack of support. To address both these areas, adapt your systems and screens to be as simple and intuitive as possible. That requires a payment system robust and smart enough to accommodate different scenarios (missed payments, NSFs, partial payments, etc.). The interface should walk agents through solutions without confusion.
Your agents should have screens with the smallest number of fields necessary to complete the tasks, and easy-to-follow decision trees so they can find solutions for your customers. By making employees’ jobs as simple as possible, you’ll reduce the need for extensive training and mitigate the stress that might be getting in the way of top-notch customer service.
Now, let’s address your customers: they are experiencing information overload due to more time on screens and many eager marketers. Limit your communications to what is necessary and useful, and tailor communications to different scenarios.
For instance, one reminder alert 15 days before payment is due, another if payment is overdue, etc. Also ask your borrowers to select the manner of communications they prefer: email, text, mail or push notifications.
When customers know your communications apply to them and make their transactions easier, they will pay attention when your messages arrive.
The world post-pandemic will resume many old activities, but you can rest assured that remote payments and collections will stick around as the “new normal.” For that reason, taking time now to make adaptations and asking these types of important questions will set up your bank or credit union for success.
John Minor is Chief Product Officer for PayNearMe, leading the product, merchant services and support teams. He has held leadership roles at Jasper Wireless, Good Technology and at Motorola, where he helped the company launch its first Android phone.