Yes, you can pay online. But soon, you may be able to pay your utility bills as you buy your Big Gulp.
I grew up in a rural area, and back in the day, my dad would go to the hardware store to pick up some nails, buy tools and pay our telephone bill. Being able to pay that bill in the store was a convenience. We visited the hardware store a lot, but the telephone company’s office wasn’t nearby.
So, as you can imagine, news that rural utilities are starting to offer their customers the option of paying at local retailers really resonated with me. I heard about this development at a meeting of a payments council that was formed by our software supplier. As a council member, I discuss ideas and issues with that supplier and with council members from around the country who, like me, help businesses manage their billing process.
Paying utility bills at the convenience store
This new payment structure allows rural Americans to pay their utility bills at more convenient locations through retailers who own stores along country byways and serve customers “out in the sticks,” as these rural areas are sometimes called. This is already a reality in some parts of the country, but has yet to come to Kentucky or Tennessee.
These locations could include convenience stores, such as Dollar Generals or 7-Elevens. These are places, like the hardware store where we paid our phone bill, where rural folks do business regularly. You could take your water bill to 7-Eleven, for example, and pay your bill at the register as you get your Big Gulp.
Many rural customers like to pay in person
Those of us on the council realize that people who live in the country are less likely to pay online or even mail their bills. When I visit a small to medium-size utility client, I’ll see 20 or more people come in throughout the day to pay a bill. Why? Some live paycheck to paycheck or are on fixed incomes, so it’s essential for them to wait until the last minute to make bill payments. Some don’t have bank accounts, and pay with cash in person. For others, like my dad, bill paying is a social occasion, a chance to get out, bump into neighbors and friends and catch up on the local news.
Adding a retail payment option recognizes diverse customers
I think the idea of paying utility bills at these stores is a great one. So I’m working with others on the council to provide feedback on how this would work from our end. Such a payment system will require integration of technology for everyone. This involves us, our customers and for the retailers who become partners in the process. I think it is an idea with value – one more way to show that utilities want to make bill payments easy for all of their customers.
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