Water bills in the US are on the rise – fast – and many communities are experiencing water bills that are higher than power bills. Increasingly, running water is even costlier than leaving lights on. High water bills are unwelcome surprises. Chances are, if your residents are receiving them, you’re hearing about them.
Here are 10 insights compiled by FATHOM utility billing experts and engineers, with decades of experience.
The topics below are intended to help your customer service teams and staff members to provide the best service to your residents while addressing questions about high water bills:
- Other services. Many cities add sewer, solid waste, trash, stormwater, and other fees and taxes into the water bill. Depending on your city’s bill layout, these details may not be obvious. Be sure to include this information to improve transparency and value.
- Impact of usage. Water is typically billed as a fixed charge that is the same month over month, and partly based on usage. Discuss with your residents how much of their bill is actually based on their usage, and ways they can conserve.
- Service period. While water bills should come regularly, the billing process for most cities is highly manual. When a resource-constrained city falls behind, bills may span more than a typical month (45-60 days of service vs. 25-30 days of service). To a resident, that bill will seem unusually high, prompting a customer service call. Once explained, it’s common for residents to wonder if they were billed for the same service period twice. Be sure to discuss service dates on the previous bill and current bill.
- Seasonal usage. Many people are shocked when they learn their actual water usage, making it important to look at trends over time. Cities tend to receive more water bill complaints in hotter months, and the reason is often simple: irrigation. If summer usage is more than double winter usage, it’s a good idea to recommend checking sprinklers for leaks and/or bad timers.
- Estimated bills. When utilities are not able to get a meter read, they often send estimated bills. It’s very common for estimated bills to underestimate actual usage. So, the next time the meter is read, the differences in actual vs. estimated bills are added to the current month’s bill, making the bill seem unusually high and causing a spike in resident questions. This issue is compounded when billing is based on tiers, and bills are estimated.
- Winter average. Does your city use winter averages to calculate sewer fees? If so, residents could pay for a leak that happens in December over the entire course of the following year. When residents call in during winter months, be sure to help them quickly address any issues that arise. If you notice a bill increase was caused by an issue during a winter month that wasn’t caught or resolved, it’s a good idea to offer an adjustment.
- Leaks. If you have investigated 1-6 above for the resident, and the high bill is still unexplained – it’s time to check for leaks or odd usage.
- The meter read. All water meters have a manual meter read, much like an odometer in a car. If the resident is skeptical of how their meter read translates to their bill, you can suggest that they read their own meter once a week for two months. The usage on their meter should check out to the amount they’re billed. If not, it is possible that the data on the meter is wrong. In this unlikely case, the water company should be able to fix it.
- Smart meters. Has the city upgraded to smart meters recently? If so, residents are probably experiencing higher bills. Why? Smart meters are highly, highly accurate – measuring every drop of water that passes through them. Bills prior to the smart meter installation were likely not covering their actual usage, hence the need to upgrade meters in the first place. As meters get older, they become less accurate. Old meters nearly always error in favor of residents, underreporting actual usage and causing low, inaccurate bills.
- Meter accuracy tests. In short, it would be extremely difficult for a meter to measure more water than is actually passing through it. In fact, we’ve never seen that happen. That said, if the resident insists there is an issue with the meter, be sure to help them weigh their options when considering a meter test. This should only be used as a last resort. Why? If the meter test shows the meter is accurate, the resident will pay a fee. If the meter test shows the meter is inaccurate, the resident won’t have to pay a fee, but they will receive a newer meter (meaning, it’s likely to be more accurate, capture every drop of use, and increase their bill).
Struggling to modernize your water utility and provide exceptional customer service to your residents? You aren’t alone. That’s why FATHOM developed the Smart Grid for Water – a comprehensive solution as a service that includes infrastructure, software, services, and a community of industry experts. FATHOM spans from meter to customer, including utility billing and customer service operations. Interested in learning how joining the community can help you delight customers and improve annual revenue at the same time? Email us!