A new way to pay: Why user-friendly, no-fee neighborhood payment centers are sure to expand

A new way to pay: Why user-friendly, no-fee neighborhood payment centers are sure to expand
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An easier, cheaper way to pay your bills with cash? That’s what’s on the horizon at a neighborhood store near you.

Cash will be king thanks to a partnership between DTE Energy and Ferndale-based DivDat, which created a kiosk technology that allows cash payments to DTE with no convenience fee.

That is great news for some metro Detroiters, who don’t pay online or are concerned about sending the payment in the mail.

Jason Bierkle, president of DivDat
Jason Bierkle, President, DivDat

According to Jason Bierkle, president of DivDat, more than 30 percent of the city’s residents don’t have regular access to the Internet and more than 43 percent are cash or limited-banking customers (sometimes referred to as unbanked and under-banked). That’s created a classic dilemma for them.

Do you mail a payment? Is it going to get there in enough time to be credited to your account? How about paying at the corner store?

Now, they can pay in cash with the DivDat kiosk located at 20 Rite Aid drug stores in metro Detroit. Visit DTE/kiosk.com for locations. So far, kiosks are not available in other Michigan cities.

“You can pick up some odds and ends, fill a prescription, and pay your DTE bill in real-time, with real cash,” says Bierkle.

Kiosks are also located at multiple DTE Energy bill payment centers and at its headquarters.

The kiosks don’t give change, but rest assured, whatever you pay will be credited to your DTE account.

“We look at the kiosk much like a smartphone – depending on what you want to do, there’s an app for it,” Bierkle says. “The kiosk is the same, except we can do what the mobile phone can’t – we can accept cash.”

It also keeps the cost down for those paying. Unlike other entities in the neighborhoods that accept utility payments, the kiosk doesn’t ask for a “convenience fee.”

“That’s not convenient for someone wanting to manage their cash flow,” he says. “We have customers who walk up to their Rite Aid. They can manage because they’re not paying a fee. People love it. If we can continue to add on other billers so that it’s a one-stop payment shop whatever you would have to pay in cash, you’d be able to do it.”

At this time no other retailer has the program. A test program with churches is slated to begin around the end of September. It would collect bill payments as well as gifts, tithes and other types of payments.

There are also discussions to expand features and functionality, which could include other payment choices, from parking tickets to one of the most requested items to date – water bills.

user-friendly2“We will evolve this product as the user base requires and dictates,” Bierkle says. “If we see big pockets (of activity), we want to move kiosks into those neighborhoods.”

“Our mission is to bring convenient ways for people to pay,” he says.

For the company, the biggest challenge is getting people to first be aware of the technology, and then, ultimately, embrace it.

“One of the challenges we have found is getting customers to understand that this is a technology that’s going to help them,” Bierkle says. “We want this product to be valuable for everybody. We want to make sure that churches and other partners are getting value out of it.”

It’s working for the two early partners. Rite Aid reported an 8 percent sales increase and high rates of customer satisfaction across the board, according to Bierkle.

DTE Energy says cash kiosks have allowed its customer service agents to spend more time focusing on solving customer issues versus merely managing cash transactions. Despite the growth of the kiosks, there has been no reduction in DTE staff as cashiers are trained to handle additional customer service functions.

With an 88 percent satisfaction rate, based on surveys culled from the kiosks, it seems more people are embracing the concept.

“The best indication of satisfaction is someone’s recommendation, or return visit,” Bierkle says.

“We’re a 44-year-old technology company that’s been in Detroit, which is rare in itself. The fact that we have a piece of technology that no other state is bringing in the format we are, which is free for the user. It enables the offline customer the online convenience.”

For additional info on the DTE Energy kiosk visit www.dtekiosk.com.

Photos: Tim Galloway

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