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How this utility changed customer behaviour with a simple text message

When faced with the problem that 20% of its customers were receiving a final notice before paying their bills, Yarra Valley Water (YVW) went to the source to find a solution.

“Sending final notices and having customers end up at the debt collectors costs the business money and creates a bad experience for the customer,” YVW Design Team Manager Nitzan Cohen said.

“We set out to understand why it was happening.”

The customer experience team did this using human-centred design, which involves taking a business problem and reframing it from a customer perspective.

Cohen, who will present on human-centred design at Ozwater’19, said YVW originally believed people weren’t paying their bills because they couldn’t afford to or were choosing not to. However, by doing a series of customer interviews, the team discovered the major factor contributing to late payments was much simpler.

“Our findings indicated most people had the best intentions to pay their bill but they were forgetting,” she said.

“We realised we needed to make it front of mind and remind people to pay on time, because nobody wants to end up at the debt collector and most of the time it was a mistake.”

Once they understood why the issue was occurring, the team gathered stakeholders from across the business to brainstorm how to solve the problem. From there, they chose the solution that would provide the biggest returns for the least effort.

The idea they landed on was to send text messages to customers reminding them to pay. This came out of the customer interviews, where people had reported bills getting lost among other emails and letters and requested more frequent reminders through a different channel.

“Once we decided on an idea that fitted with what customers were saying, we prototyped it and sent 3000 text messages to customers over a month,” Cohen said.

“As a result, we found 20% fewer final notices were sent out. If the final notice is not sent out, the customer isn’t ending up at debt collection.”

While this first iteration was about testing a high-impact, low-investment idea, Cohen said the team’s findings have presented a business case for making more improvements.

This includes offering direct debit via credit card and implementing a ‘yes to pay’ text option.

“We’ll prototype this to check it’s actually a solution customers want before we make the decision whether to implement it across the business,” Cohen said.

“That’s the main benefit of human-centred design; once you’ve got a solution, it’s about iterating and not investing too much money upfront before knowing it’s going to work.

“It’s about testing a little bit at a time and making sure the solution is providing the outcomes you expect.”

To hear more about human-centred design and how Yarra Valley Water reduced the cost of debt collection, don’t miss Nitzan Cohen’s presentation at Ozwater'19. To learn more and to register, click here.

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