Notes on Bills and Service Design
You can’t see energy. You can’t feel it, taste it or smell it. In fact, the only evidence a customer has that it exists at all (beyond flipping a light switch) is that every month he or she pays for it. The only time most people think about energy or their energy provider is when something goes wrong, or when it’s time to pay the monthly bill.
There is an emotional response to paying this bill. That response accumulates, month after month, and it forms the basis for the opinion the customer holds for his or her power company. Paying bills is not always a pleasant experience. It takes time and money, both of which are often in short supply. A properly designed bill can’t make energy less expensive, but it can make paying for it easier and faster: the less amount of time you take from a customer’s day, the more positive the experience.
Time is the difference between a well-considered bill and a bill where default and technical convenience are allowed to override human considerations. Most bills raise more questions than they answer. They are filled with jargon and abbreviations we don’t understand. What we don’t understand, we are suspicious of; suspicion breeds resentment. A resentful customer is not a happy customer.
A comprehensive statement written in plain English is a strategic advantage. Customers will be able to see clearly where their money is going. With clarity comes understanding. People are more inclined to buy what they understand. Moreover, such a bill provides the company with an opportunity to reinforce its core values: simple, easy and accessible may be the company’s slogan, but if its bills are not, then the slogan — and the values it represents — are hamstrung.
This kind of follow-through is extremely important. Another example: if a company says it is committed to saving money and energy, perhaps a way to show this would be to end the bill in a self-returning envelope. This would not only save money in envelopes, but it solidifies the company’s message.
Ultimately, this is the goal of an identity system, of which bills are often the most overlooked part. But if an identity is to function properly and a company’s message is to be sent clearly and effectively, everything that represents that company must be carefully considered. Everything communicates.
Putting Notes into Practice
PacifiCorp had a very big problem. Every month their wholesale power division delivered invoices – hundreds often over one hundred pages deep – totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet customers could not tell by reading the invoice whether or not the the amount due was correct. Fortunately, this was true for all of PacifiCorp’s competitors as well. There was very little trust that energy companies were able to accurately calculate energy costs.
What appeared to our client to be an invoice design problem was truly a Service Design problem: building trust.
Researching how power use is calculated, how data moves from infrastructure to variable data printing to account agents and finally to various audiences within every customers’ organization, provided the insights needed to design an invoice easily read by all concerned.
The system is based on simple tabular execution, with the ability to summarize an entire region or facility, or specific meters. Data visualization is intrinsic to the system. Smart information design makes data comparison valuable enough PacifiCorp can charge fees for including it in the invoice.
Deconstructing of the process demonstrated PacifiCorp could save the six figure budget allotted for enterprise software and accomplish all this for $10,000 in back-end management.
Ultimately the invoice did more to engender trust in PacifiCorp’s customer relationships than any other program to date, winning millions of dollars of contracts, even when PacifiCorp was not the least expensive provider.