Recently I read an interesting article by Phil Riebel, “Can Paper Bills be More Cost-effective than E-bills?” He referenced a study done with an Energy Company in Denmark. Their customer base is made up of businesses committed to green efforts with their energy providers. They set out to test an alternative form of invoicing to a subset of their customer base. They wondered if switching from digital invoicing to physical mail invoicing would speed up the remittance and payment from their customers.

The results were somewhat surprising. It showed that 59% of customers receiving an electronic invoice needed a reminder, while only 29% of customers receiving their statement via postal mail required a second message. In addition, when the first reminder was sent again electronically, the customer service department had an 80% increase in activity and caused a strain on the their staff and phone lines. After calculating the costs of customer service staff and delay in remittance vs. the cost of sending the invoices via mail, they found that it cost the company approximately $3.25 per customer to get paid by paper invoice vs. $5.75 per customer via email.

While this study was only conducted for a 2 month period of time and in another country (where postage is almost double of the costs in the US), it brings up an interesting point when comparing response methods of electronic vs. mail customer communications. If I think about how much attention I pay to my email vs. how much attention I pay to mail pieces sent to me, I am much more likely to spend time with and view my physical mail than I am to quickly click & delete my email when I’m too busy to check it. If I’m too busy to check my physical mail, I at least put it in a place to review later. With my email being inundated with hundreds of solicitations daily, it is possible I will miss an important communication from a business in which I am associated and/or from an important friend or family member.

Regardless of how you feel about the study and validity of the facts – I think this is an extremely interesting article that causes you to stop and think. Is electronic billing, statements or customer communications really better than mail? What do you think?