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A Utility Bill, But Not As We Know It Talking to Customers with New Technology Author: Bill Parker, General Manager, GMC Software Technology Ltd. (UK) Publication: UK Power Publication Date: April 2006

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GMC Article A Utility Bill, But Not As We Know It Bill Parker, General Manager, GMC Software Technology Ltd. (UK) April 2006

A Utility Bill, But Not As We Know It Talking to Customers with New Technology Opening up the utilities to competition changed the rules for customer contact documentation. No longer was it simply a matter of complying with legislation and revenue collection, customer retention became paramount. Customers want service and they expect to feel valued, to be seen as a person rather than just a number. This makes the regular utility bill a critically important document. It’s more than a piece of paper asking for money, it’s a company’s representative in each household and is the one document that is absolutely guaranteed to be opened and read. Research shows that bills are looked at for longer than any other type of communication and almost three times as long as direct mail, so it goes without saying that you not only need to get it right, you need to make the most of this opportunity to communicate more than simple financial information. In essence, the bill becomes an educational and marketing tool. The technology and systems involved in producing bills and financial statements have long been a determining factor in their design and use as communication medium. Although the layout and presentation has been carefully thought through, to make them as easy to read and interpret as possible, the production and distribution of these important documents has chiefly been a function of the finance and IT operations. Other literature may be enclosed or sent as a separate direct mail item – which often means it’s thrown away without being read – but the general appearance and content of the bill itself has been predictable. This is about to change. Thanks to recent developments in digital printing software you can now use transactional documents to effectively ‘talk’ to your customers on a one to one basis, personalising your contact and ensuring that all departments – marketing, customer service and finance, can share access to customer data, input into customer commu­­ ni­cation and feedback from customer contacts. For the first time this new technology bridges the gap between the world of design and communication and the world of IT, impleme­n­ tation and production. It creates an integrated IT environ­ment with multiple ‘touch points’ accessible to every sector of the business. Personalisation of customer communication is becoming a key differentiator in the battle for market share and

customer retention. The new digital printing software, which does much more than simply organise the printing process, offers utilities the means to tailor sales or customer service messages as never before. The utility bill need no longer be the communication ‘blunt instrument’ it has been up to now. Design Freedom Previous barriers in bill design and content are being swept away, allowing greater design freedom, a more imaginative use of layout and colour and imported customer data. Marketing and commercial personnel can have a direct and flexible input, exploiting this so far underused marketing tool, at relatively little extra cost. The complete platform independence of the new software seamlessly links the design and production phases of billing document workflow for greater efficiency and control. Management of all process components is integrated into one screen and program. In a major improvement on earlier technologies, it doesn’t take IT operators with programming expertise to understand and use this software; anyone with average computer skills can easily be trained. Communication and design professionals used to working with MS Word, desk top publishing and design systems such as Quark, InDesign, PhotoShop and Macintosh-based tools will find it familiar, with the sophisticated graphics support they have come to expect. The world is not black and white so why should variable print be? The software will print graphics as well as text, in any number of colours. It automates faithful colour matching among devices in the production process. Industry standard ICC Colour Management maintains consistency and accuracy between screen proof and production output. Conceivably, different designs can be used for different types of customer, livening up the document and adding impact. The time needed to implement changes in the content of documents has also been dramatically reduced from months to days or even hours if necessary, bringing the possibility of interactive customer contact for utilities a step nearer. Personalised Messaging Integrated into an existing business networks the software allows marketing departments to create individual messages and allocate the ‘rules’ about which type of

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GMC Article A Utility Bill, But Not As We Know It Bill Parker, General Manager, GMC Software Technology Ltd. (UK) April 2006

customer should receive them and when. It dynamically pulls in the messages according to these rules and then reports back on who has had what. This could mean that those with very low usage could, for instance, be automatically offered the option of paying once or twice a year, while those using much more might be offered a monthly direct debit option. Customers switching from other energy companies could have a price saving, welcoming or similar message added to reinforce their decision to move supplier. The technology will also allow other variable data documents – letters or specifically relevant sales material – to be created and included in the same envelope. Because it permits multimedia output, documents can be designed without knowing on what output device or finishing equipment it will run. Output choices can be made further down the production line. Electronic Proofing Document professionals spend at least as much time testing designs as they do creating them. Another major advantage of the new technology is the ability to proof and test documents on screen, so that designers and commercial managers can see exactly how the finished printed page will look – not only the document design, but colour, resolu­ tion and the flow of real variable data – without the time and expense of tying up production equipment in a test run. Proofing is essential for personalised document appli­­ca­tions, especially in transactional correspondence. Any errors not caught and corrected can have legal or regulatory impact. In cost sensitive, deadline-driven production environ­ ments, accurate, immediate proofing saves time and money by helping users avoid serious problems. Now various layouts and messages can be quickly and easily evaluated without the hours of reengineering previously required and before printing a single page. CRM operations too can benefit from the integration of data that software technology now permits, following up on correspondence or feeding back phone contact details to the written formats, even onto the next bills or Email, using a record of ALL contacts with each customer that is automatically updated. By pulling together the marketing and operational activities, response rates can be improved and customer loyalty strengthened. Maximizing Profits and Cutting Costs With all the design and marketing freedom the techno­ logy allows there are more opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling. For example, we are all told to shred anything that includes personal data, especially bills and statements. A picture of a shredder, a sales message and the option to

add the cost to the utility bill and purchase at the same time would be quite feasible. Conversely while this generation of software can do so much more to empower a business, it will also help to cut costs. It is estimated that around 20 % of the cost of a document is setting it up and 80 % is maintenance, experience with the new generation software shows that the maintenance cost can be virtually eliminated. It will also allow big savings on postage by providing a mailsort function or by combining personalised correspondence in one envelope and its sophistication means plain stationery can be used instead of a number of different pre-printed designs, cutting stationery bills even further. IT personnel are freed up too, generally just needed to oversee the overall infrastructure. Sounds too good to be true? Well there are one or two potential pitfalls, generally associated with real time marketing. If variable printed messages can be changed so easily and quickly, there need to be systems and approvals in place before these are authorised. Such freedom may mean curbing the over enthusiasm of some design and marketing teams and require tighter monitoring of corporate image and messages than before. It is also important that the software brand selected for all these marketing advantages is of the right calibre to protect the all-important cash gene­ ration billing process, with the highest levels of security. In many businesses the fear of doing anything that might adversely affect the billing process has resulted in a reluctance to change and embrace the new opportunities for expanding the role of this document. The relations between IT and marketing departments are often less than friendly, likewise the marketing and billing operations are historically quite separate. As so often the case when new technology has the capability of operating across traditional barriers, it is the limitations in the business practice of the user that dictates the level at which it is allowed to benefit the business rather than the limitations of the technology itself. In practice those utilities now updating to the new software are taking it one step at a time and rolling it out from the IT and finance operations in manageable stages as departments realise how its capabilities can be made to work for them. This cautious approach is to be expected, but we can be sure that the rate of take-up will accelerate once the full benefits are appreciated and the need to have that competitive edge forces the pace of change. In five years time we’ll still be sending and receiving our utility bills, but not as we know them now!

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GMC Article A Utility Bill, But Not As We Know It Bill Parker, General Manager, GMC Software Technology Ltd. (UK) April 2006

GMC Software Technology GMC Software Technology helps businesses implement high impact, personalized tcustomer satisfaction and loyalty, drive new customer acquisition, improve productivity and cut costs. Our PrintNet software is an easy to implement, end-to-end solution that provides full data integration and processing, design and composition, colla­boration and approval, distributed output management and process automation for highly targeted print and electronic communications. We offer exceptionally reliable technologies and services based on worldwide ISO 9001:2000 certification and CMMI development methodology. GMC serves thousands of users worldwide, and many of our customers are producing in excess of 100 million personalized documents per month – including direct mail, statements, bills, policies, catalogs, correspondence and combined transactional / marketing materials. PrintNet and the GMC logo are trademarks of GMC Software Technology.

Contact For additional information about this article or about GMC products, please contact: Charmaine Cartwright GMC Software Technology Limited Whitwick Business Centre Stenson Road, Coalville Leicestershire, LE67 4JP c.cartwright@gmc.net Phone +44 (0)1530 276135 Fax +44 (0)1530 276136 www.gmc.net

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A Utility Bill, But Not As We Know It