One of the worst customer service experiences in the utility industry happens when a customer has their water service disconnected for non-payment. To be fair, sometimes it’s the only avenue we have as utilities – but, because of how awful it is both for the customer (for obvious reasons) and for the utility to execute, it is something we should all strive to avoid.
So, what can be done?
Ensure bills are clear, accurate, and regular. This can only be accomplished by making sure you receive timely, accurate data from each meter and then making sure the right information is flowing into your billing system. When this happens, bills go out on time, approximately every 30 days, and you have confidence that the bills are accurate. This is critical in helping your customers pay on time and in getting revenue into the utility faster – all while helping customers anticipate and pay their bills. It’s no surprise that sometimes paying a water bill isn’t always top of mind for customers. But, when customers forget, reminding them is good service. The days of placing door hangers and expecting money to show up are in the past. The digital age requires us to modernize our communications with our customers and adopt communication standards established by other service providers (notably in the telecommunications and banking industries). Today, everyone has a website. Everyone has an app. Everyone can send email communications. These facts make it inappropriate for us to turn someone’s water off without taking the steps to communicate with them in ways they expect to receive communications from us. To do this, we must have utility billing solutions in place to notify customers when their payments are late by email, text, and/or call – and when we do notify them, we have to make it easy and quick for them to pay.
Adopt an electronic nagging program. In all seriousness, utilities need an automated way to remind customers to pay. Ensuring we’re sending an adequate number of reminders to pay, notifying them that they’re at risk of disconnection or that they will be disconnected on a certain date/time is a must have.
Ensuring clear, accurate, regular bills and adopting electronic nagging programs are two areas utilities in the digital age can’t afford to continue without. It’s worth noting, though, that these only help with customers that have the money to pay, and they’ve just forgotten. What about our customers who can’t afford their water bills?
Offer flexible payment plans. We all have segments of customers in our communities who have already reached the point where water has become unaffordable. In these cases, customers begin to engage in practices to ensure their water stays on, while prioritizing other bills and obligations. Almost always, water for these customers gets even more unaffordable over time with disconnection fees, reconnection fees, late fees, interest, and so on. Municipal and utility leaders have a responsibility to reduce this burden for our disadvantaged customers – water is a necessity of life, after all. Utilities should offer ways for customers to pay bills slower, and over time, as the money is available.
Foundational to offering any of these programs is a modern utility billing platform. Once that’s in place, there are many creative ways to ensure customers who can afford to pay, pay faster, and customers who can’t afford to pay have options and support. Ready to ensure your community has access to affordable water into the future? Contact us today.