Rich Rutigliano, President of PriMedia, joins Brian Cohen, ADD Systems Multimedia Specialist and host of ADDcast, to outline how online portals can improve efficiency and benefit a company’s bottom line; how PriMedia’s inVue product integrated with ADD’s SmartConnect can help a company get paid faster; how portals help alleviate phone calls and the need for additional CSRs at the office, and much more!
Brian Cohen: Welcome to ADDcast. I’m Multimedia Specialist Brian Cohen, and I’m joined today by Rich Rutigliano, President of PriMedia. PriMedia is a platinum sponsor for the 2023 BTC, which takes place May 8 through May 12, 2023, at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club in Orlando, Florida. Rich, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.
Rich Rutigliano: Brian, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Brian: Rich, in the current business environment, it’s proven time and time again that having an online portal can improve efficiency and benefit a company’s bottom line. Can you give us an example of that?
Rich: Absolutely. We have many examples. I’d like to highlight two of our new portal products: Budget Express and Project Manager, which illustrate this quite well. Budget Express automatically calculates the customer’s usage and monthly budget payments, and allows them to enroll via the portal 24/7, eliminating the need to prepare and analyze reports, and print and mail budget solicitations and coupons. The system generates an individualized contract and stores it for future reference, simultaneously emailing a copy to the customer. For ADD SmartConnect users, it also writes back all the customer’s key data points into the customer account in the ADD System. What Project Manager does is organize, track, and record all key stages of HVAC installations to improve workflow efficiency by integrating service personnel scheduling, permitting, and procurement requirements all in one place, accessible in-house and in the field. Company and customer email and text alerts are built in so that the customers are informed, and installation supervisors can deploy resources most effectively.
Brian: Can you walk our listeners through how your inVue product integrated with ADD’s SmartConnect can help a company get paid faster?
Rich: Yes. Through inVue, customers have a choice in how they would like to pay, and all payments automatically write back to the ADD System. Customers can pay by credit card, eCheck, debit card, EFT, PayPal, and Venmo. Additionally, they can opt for one-time payments, vaulted payments, which saves them from re-entering their credit card information each time they pay, as well as recurring payments or scheduled payments. By offering a wide range of payment options that are available at any time, day or night, and helping customers eliminate the need to pay by mail, our clients enjoy significantly better cash flow and reduced customer service requirements.
Brian: Now, Rich, it’s 2023, and, unfortunately, companies are still feeling the effects of COVID absences in the office. Do your portals help alleviate phone calls and the need for additional CSRs at the office, and if so, how?
Rich: The difference in customer service loads between companies with and without portals is quite dramatic. For instance, here’s some recent stats from two similarly sized PriMedia clients, one with a portal and one without. Through the same period of time, the company without a portal fielded 3,133 contact us page requests for information on deliveries, service plans, and other services. All of those required a CSR to respond either by email or on the phone, which can be very time-consuming. On the other hand, the company with a portal experienced 1,842 contact us requests, a reduction of more than 41%. At the same time, that same company with the portal had customers visit 33,502 times to make payments, look at contracts and price protection, view service information, and more. Without a portal, much of that huge number of inquiries would have required interaction with a customer service representative.
Suffice it to say, portal activity not only offers an enhanced customer experience, but it dramatically reduces the number of customer service representatives needed to support the customer base effectively. On a related front, the COVID-19 pandemic served as the catalyst for creating Primedia’s MyTec product. MyTec allows service technicians to diagnose customer equipment problems remotely using smartphone technology. The customer uploads a video of the problem and schedules a remote FaceTime, Google Duo, or Zoom televisit, much like a doctor’s telehealth appointment. By diagnosing the problem in advance, the service tech can usually bring the parts and tools needed upon entry, thereby minimizing the number of trips and the amount of times spent in the hole.
Brian: How does inVue with PricePoint and the ADD’s SLPP, or special liquid product pricing, help a company better protect themselves from volatile prices?
Rich: As we all know, volatility is a constant in the energy markets. Fuel marketers can often find themselves between a rock and a hard place. If they offer price protection to all of their customers at a time when prices are high, the customers may blame them if prices fall significantly. Conversely, if they have offered price protection when prices are lower, they can be left in a precarious position if they haven’t secured enough product to protect themselves.
PricePoint can help by allowing customers to lock in their price contracts in real-time throughout the year or at prescribed periods. The portal supports fixed price, price cap, pre-buy, and cap-budget programs as well as multiple fuels, and creates a signed binding contract which is emailed to the customer and archived for the company. Any price protection fees associated with the contract are billed and paid instantaneously. For companies with SmartConnect, all contract details are automatically written back to the ADD System. Companies no longer need to print and mail program solicitations, and are protected from the time delays which can put them in a worse buying position. Through the Company Admin Dashboard, marketers can set their pricing, track secure gallons, override existing pricing for individual customers, and review all signed contracts. Additionally, for customers who would still like CSR interaction, the company CSRs have the ability to create custom contracts through the portal, and email or traditionally mail them to the customer.
Brian: One of the issues that energy companies deal with is obviously customer losses. What are some of the ways that a customer portal can increase customer retention?
Rich: Convenience is paramount for today’s busy consumers. Offering a wide range of self-service options enhances the customer experience and builds loyalty. Since 75% of consumers now say they prefer brands that offer rewards, it’s essential for companies to offer a loyalty program to achieve strong customer retention. Our OnPoint portal product is designed to do just that. Customers are rewarded for the loyalty every time they make a payment. And they’re able to view their point totals at any time, and request redemptions for popular consumer goods and gift cards or discounts on company products and services. The system is fully automated for the consumer and the company alike, and creates an ongoing positive experience that builds trust. Intuitive marketing messages that work from company and customer data are another way the portal can boost retention. Companies oftentimes suffer losses because their customers aren’t aware of all the products and services they offer. Portal messages can ensure that this risk is minimized and, at the same time, offer timely promotions that are helpful and which strengthen the business relationship. For instance, the data might show that a certain customer is frequently late in making payments. So, the portal can key on budget program messaging to try to make it easier for the customer to pay on time. Any data point can be useful to tailor helpful messaging that gives customers a strong sense that the company knows them. And nothing can be more important than that in building loyalty.
Brian: Energy companies are usually 24-hour operations. Do you find that a lot of your clients use inVue both at home and in the office, and if both, how so?
Rich: Definitely at home, in the office, and in the field. All of our portal products are designed in mobile-first responsive format, and can scale to any device, from smartphones and tablets to desktops, so our clients can get the most out of them. A ready example would be our LeadPro product, which tracks all leads, whether they’ve come in through the phone, online contact forms, email, or through online search ads, in one easy-to-use application, providing essential contact information, status notifications, and management oversight from anywhere. Another example is TextPoint, which enables companies to send urgent notifications to all their customers at once from the office, or from home or away. TextPoint can also be used to send individualized communications that work off of customer data. For instance, sending texts to will-call customers in a certain delivery zone, to maximize delivery routing efficiency. Similarly, our mailZOOM! product can be used to reach customers on a mass basis for any number of reasons, including emergency notifications and promotions, all delivered from anywhere, anytime.
Brian: Rich, diving deeper into this, how do your portals help manage a company’s business remotely?
Rich: Our Portal Admin Dashboard affords our clients the ability to remotely navigate a host of management tools, covering a wide range of company functions. For instance, through the dashboard, managers can view all portal links re-segregated by topics, such as delivery requests receive, service requests receive, and support inquiries of various kinds. Accounts receivable tracking, service dispatch calendars, and field personnel access to pertinent customer account data, such as billing status, delivery, and service information, all enable our clients to effectively manage their business from any location.
Brian: With 67% of customers now preferring self-service, coupled with the convenience of doing everything online, from paying bills to ordering fuel, what are some of the features that you find are critical for consumers?
Rich: Our back-end portal statistics show some clear patterns. Pay online options, viewing transaction history, and the ability to check pricing and order fuel, and secure price protection enrollment are among the most heavily trafficked areas. Clients with our OnPoint system see significant activity as customers frequently check their reward totals and redemption opportunities. Mobile-friendly features are essential as more and more consumers are transacting via smartphones as their preferred method of doing business.
Brian: How has inVue affected customer relationships with companies?
Rich: With today’s consumer expecting to go online for everything from banking to food delivery and everything in between, energy companies that have established a robust online portal are more relevant and garner greater market share in their service area.
Brian: With customer portal accessibility now more readily available to both large and small heating oil and propane companies alike, what do you think are the most interesting differences and similarities in regard to their respective requests when setting up their own portal?
Rich: Brian, great question. There are definitely several key similarities between large and small companies, irrespective of size. Pay online, fuel ordering, and my account features, such as balance information and account history, are universal. So are things like our PossibleProduct, which automates bill presentment and payment, and provides an easy to manage paper to paperless strategy. That being said, larger energy marketers tend to automate customer onboarding more so than smaller companies. Our product name for this is NCE, a.k.a. New Customer Enrollment. Prospects who visit a company’s website through Google search, social media, or digital marketing campaigns are invited to self-enroll to become a customer. The process is fully automated and takes the soon-to-be customer through a series of prompts, gathering all vital information, checking credit bureau information, and setting up the new account in the ADD System. Additionally, larger companies tend to have multiple locations, oftentimes with different product and service offerings from location to location. Using zip code or account data enables the company to offer an individualized portal experience for each customer, while handling all back-office concerns, such as payment routing and logistic requirements.
Brian: A third of customers who abandon a business relationship do so because personalization is lacking. How does inVue allow for a personalized experience for both customers and companies?
Rich: PriMedia’s philosophy in building websites and portals has remained the same from the very beginning. We build software that works the way our customers do business, not the other way around. That means that we expect to customize every portal and website we do. Our clients shouldn’t have to fit how they do business into our system, but we should tailor our products to fit their systems and processes. On the flip side, our clients’ customers enjoy a highly personalized experience that utilizes ADD System data to provide key information and a wide range of opportunities to enhance their relationship with the company, such as convenient payment options, timely reminders, cost saving recommendations, seasonal promotions, loyalty rewards, delivery and service scheduling, and more, all in a mobile-first platform offering convenience at home or on the go.
Brian: Rich, if people would like to learn more about the inVue product and PriMedia, how can they get in touch with you and your team?
Rich: Thanks for asking, Brian. If folks have any questions or need additional information, our number is 800-796-3342, or they can contact us online at getinvue.com/addcast. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today.
Brian: Absolutely, Rich. I also want to personally thank PriMedia for being a platinum sponsor at the 2023 BTC, and I’d like to thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today.
Rich: Thank you for having me.
Brian: To learn more about the BTC and to register, please visit addsys.com/btc. And to keep up with the latest happenings at ADD Systems, visit addsys.com/blog or connect with us on social media by following ADD Systems on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If you have any questions about ADDcast, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening, and have a great day!