By Ian Brizdle | Nov. 4, 2020
As a member of the Digital Communications team at Hawaiian Electric, I see a lot of proposals for the creation of new online tools and forms. Sometimes, the solutions are complicated and overengineered — being digitized “just because”. Then there are situations where the result is simple and meets the needs of our customers. Our online Payment Arrangement Request Form hits the sweet spot by making requests for help with payment plans easy and optimized for your mobile device.
Focus on usability
For me, an online tool needs to be simple and easy to use. It also needs to be accessible and responsive on multiple types of devices, as over half of our website traffic is from mobile phones (55.6 percent in Sept 2020). Asking for help in general is not easy. If a customer is unable to open a file or fill out the fields on their mobile device, they are going to get frustrated and quit.
The Payment Arrangement Request Form began as a fillable PDF, which was causing difficulty with some mobile platforms. We realized quickly that we needed a better solution for something as important as helping our customers who are grappling with the financial impacts of COVID-19. Now, it is a fully responsive web form that was built from the ground up with the mobile customer experience in mind.
How does it work?
Our available payment programs allow customers to split up the balance due into smaller pieces that are added to their upcoming bills so that they can pay the balance in manageable increments. However, the Payment Arrangement Request Form doesn’t try to sign you up for a plan. What it does do is serve as a way for customers who may be behind on their payments to reach out and say, “I would like some help.” We collect some basic contact information and then a customer service specialist can contact the customer and discuss with them which payment arrangement plan works best for them.
Since COVID-19 has impacted the ability for so many to work or run their businesses, some customers have been unable to pay their bills for months. Disconnections due to non-payment have been suspended by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) at least through the end of the year, but it also noted that customers will still ultimately be responsible for paying their bills.
We are trying to make it as painless as possible for our customers to take the first step toward addressing the situation rather than ignore it and hope it goes away.
A few takeaways
- Customers facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 are urged to apply for CARES Act funding that is set to expire at the end of the year. Visit our COVID-19 resources page for available options.
- If you are behind on your bills, reach out to us and ask for payment arrangement help at www.hawaiianelectric.com/paymentarrangement.
- Don’t be a victim of fraud. There are people out there trying to take advantage of customers by impersonating utility companies — especially during the pandemic. Remember, we do not send text messages about bills, and we do not accept payment via Cash App, bitcoin, gift cards or prepaid debit cards.
Ian Brizdle is a manager of web and digital communications at Hawaiian Electric Company.