Streamlined payment processing allows more time for customer service

Bryan Billings, Utility Billing Manager, City of Gulfport, Mississippi, April 4, 2018
At the City of Gulfport, Mississippi, one of the early fruits of transitioning back to a relationship with Hancock Whitney Bank has been a remedy for the labor-intensive job of processing utility bill payments received through online bill pay services. With Hancock Whitney’s solution — Bill Pay Direct Post — we’ve substantially reduced daily payment processing in the offices of Mississippi’s second largest city, freeing up staff to better serve residents.
 
 Every day, another pile of checks

We were meeting in my office to go over implementation of the City’s new lockbox services when we began talking about the amount of time my staff was spending processing the water and sewer bill payments our residents were sending us through their banks’ bill pay services. To illustrate the problem, I had someone bring in a pile of checks that represented that day’s bill pay processing.  I explained how each day we received a large envelope of between 50 and 100 bill pay utility payments from our previous treasury management bank, which wasn’t set up to process such payments that arrived without a payment coupon.

Our previous bank was bundling up the utility-payment checks they received from the bill pay services and were mailing them to us. Two or three days later, when they were often close to being past due, those items landed on our doorstep. On heavy days, two office staffers were spending up to a couple hours to open them all, pull up the appropriate account numbers on our system, and complete the posting process.
 
Once they heard about this, my new bankers suggested we consider Bill Pay Direct Post and called a colleague to give us an on-the-spot online demonstration. He showed how we could arrange to have the various bill pay services send the checks they were printing for our residents to Hancock Whitney — instead of my office — where the bank would process them and send us an electronic file each day that we could post to our accounting system in minutes.
 
We were sold on Bill Pay Direct Post almost immediately. We implemented it in June 2016 and, after a smooth transition, there has been a big payoff.
 
Streamlined payment processing allows more time for customer service
Left to right, Treasury Services Sales Specialist Heather Olivier, Institutional Banking Representative Jennifer King and Bryan Billings, Utility Billing Manager for the City of Gulfport, Mississippi. The city's adoption of Bill Pay Direct Post has allowed staff to save time and provide better service to utility customers.
 
 
Less processing, more time with customers
We’ve benefited in two main ways. The first is that with the time we save every day by eliminating bill pay processing in our office, we’ve been able to have our staffers take on different duties that improve our customer service.
 
For instance, we’ve been able to train two more employees to set up services for new or relocating Gulfport residents.
 
In addition, we’ve been able to devote more staff time to answering the hundreds of calls our office receives from residents each day regarding their utility accounts.

A robust menu of payment options
The second big benefit is that it’s helped us be able to continue to offer online bill pay as a convenient payment option.
 
We pride ourselves on enhancing the customer experience by offering Gulfport residents a range of payment options — everything from in-person cash, check or credit card payments at either of our two offices, to mailing a check to a lockbox, to online credit card and Automated Clearing House (ACH) credit and debit alternatives.
 
We receive as many as 1,700 online bill pay payments a month, representing about $115,000 in receipts. Those payments comprise only about 6% of our total number of utility payments. But it’s the method those residents are most comfortable with, and by eliminating the drain on staff time using Bill Pay Direct Post, we’re able to continue to offer it as a payment option.
 
My advice to other municipalities and businesses that need to process significant volumes of payments made through online bill pay services is this: If those volumes are a concern or a burden to your staff, Bill Pay Direct Post is definitely a service worth looking into. It has saved us at the City of Gulfport a lot of time that we’ve been able to use to focus on customers.