On average, 9% of households are at least 30 days past due on their utility bill.  As a result, utility companies have increased the number of service shutdowns in response to the increased delinquent customers.

For example, Pennsylvania-based PPL Corp increased shutoffs by 78% in one year. The city-owned utility in Memphis, TN increased shutoffs by 38% in just 8 months. In New York, utilities are owed $611.3 million. New Hampshire & Massachusetts-based utility companies are owed approximately $15 million.

While the lack of heat in the winter may entice some non-payers to pony up, service shutoffs cost the utility company in the long run. Most shutoffs are manual, meaning the utility company has to send a crew out to the delinquent location to manually disconnect the service.

Some companies are in the process of transitioning to digital meters, which would allow the utility to shut off services digitally. Digital meters mean utilities don’t have to send crews to physical locations to manually disconnect services. This transition requires a hefty upfront investment, though.

California-based Edison International switched to digital meters and, according to it, installing 5.3 million digital meters cost $1.63 billion.

Many utility companies are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can’t continue to allow non-paying customers to receive services, but they can’t fund the transition to digital meters.

These companies should explore alternate payment options to make it as easy as possible for customers to make their payments on time and in full. Many utility customers would prefer an automated bill pay solution that makes the payment process hassle free and paperless.

Utility customers also want a fast, easy way to make payments. Almost every utility company offers their customers the option to make a payment online. However, utility websites require customers to complete a lengthy registration process. Even after that’s completed, customers still have to log in to make online payments in the future, despite the fact that 62% of utility customers would prefer to make a payment without logging into a system.

By implementing a pay by phone tool, utility companies can give their customers the payment experience they’re looking for. A pay by phone application allows customers to call a phone number, hear their account information and make a payment with a credit or debit card, echeck or ACH.

Another thing utility customers are looking for is to receive payment reminder notifications. In fact, 52% of utility customers said they wanted to receive these notifications. When a pay by phone tool is used in conjunction with a bill pay reminder service, there can be a 50% reduction in shutoff due to non-payment.

Customers prefer that payment reminder notifications be distributed by email, text message of phone call, and that can take them directly to the place they need to go to make their payment. Another bonus to offering payment reminder notification is that your contact database will stay updated so that customers receive their notifications.