Happy fifth anniversary!

This issue marks the fifth anniversary of the Utility Information Pipeline! About five and a half years ago I had a “what if…” idea. What if I took my accumulated experiences and wrote about them in a newsletter? Would people be interested? How long could I sustain it? Well, the answers to those questions are “yes” and “five years and counting” thanks to you, my readers!

Subscribers continue to increase, by 10% again this year. If you have co-workers or colleagues from other utilities who you feel would benefit from reading this newsletter, please take a minute and forward this to them and encourage them to subscribe.

New feature

In the coming year, I will be introducing a new feature called “Reader Spotlights”.

These will be opportunities to highlight Utility Information Pipeline readers and initiatives they have implemented as a result of something I’ve written here or presented at a speaking engagement.

If you have adopted new policies or streamlined procedures based on something you’ve read here, please let me know by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

Blog makeover

If you haven’t checked out my blog recently, I encourage you to do so. I’ve recently updated the theme to give it a fresh look. If you view my blog from a smartphone or tablet, this new format should be very easy to read. Each Utility Information Pipeline newsletter article is also posted to my blog as an archive. So if you can’t find an old newsletter in your inbox that you wish you still had, try searching for it on my blog.

Additional rates dashboards

In the process of updating my blog, I realized the Environmental Finance Center at UNC has added several more rates dashboards since my original post in July of 2013. To see if there is a rates dashboard for your state, click here to see the updated original post.

Most popular blog posts

This year, late fees was the most popular blog post, edging out convenience fees, which was the top post for the previous three years. Here are the five most popular blog posts in terms of page views for 2015:

  1. How much is your late fee?
  2. Can we charge a convenience fee for credit card payments…?
  3. Do you have a cash handling policy?
  4. Utility Fee Survey Results – Part I
  5. Utility Fee Survey Results – Part II

Ideas, anyone…?

As you might imagine, after five years, topics to write about aren’t as easy to come up with as they were when I first started! If you have a question, idea, or suggestion of a topic that you would like to learn more about, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com.

Happy New Year!

I wish you and yours all the best for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016!

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© 2015 Gary Sanders

Do you document customer interactions?

The last issue discussed reading inactive meters for vacant accounts and included a poll asking if your utility reads inactive meters.

Poll results

Ten utilities responded to the poll, and here are the results (clicking on the the graphic will open a larger image in a new window):

Do you read inactive meters

If you missed the poll, you can click here to take it.

While only ten utilities responded to the poll, I’m pleased to see that 70% of the respondents do read inactive meters. I’m especially glad to see the one utility that still reads on paper is reading inactive meters!

What really surprised me is the utility that reads using an automated meter reading system and doesn’t read inactive meters. Frankly, this baffles me. Unlike reading on paper or with handhelds, where the meter reader must take additional time to read inactive meters, reading with an AMR or AMI system takes no extra time. So why not read inactive meters?

Documenting customer interactions

Does your utility keep a record of all customer interactions? For example, if a customer calls to complain about a high bill or request additional time to pay their bill, do you log a comment for that?

Documenting each conversation with a customer can prove invaluable if the customer complains

Documenting each conversation with a customer can prove invaluable if the customer complains to management or your board. Customers tend to remember their version of a phone call and having an accurate record of what transpired during the call can easily resolve a “he said, she said” situation when the customer suffers from selective memory.

I encourage all of our customers to enter a comment for any conversation with a customer beyond the routine “how much is my bill and when is it due?” questions. Any good billing system allows you to enter comments for each customer. If yours doesn’t, it’s time to look for new software! If your billing software won’t allow you to enter comments for each customer, give me a call and let’s discuss how a business review could help determine what other shortcomings your software has.

Share your stories

Have you experienced a situation where having documented a customer conversation proved invaluable later? If so, please click here to take a moment share your story in the comments section of this post on my blog.

Are you using your software to your best advantage?

If you aren’t sure your utility is using your software to its best advantage, or if you realize it’s time for new software, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help you understand what new software could do for you.

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© 2015 Gary Sanders

Poll results and vacant accounts

The last issue revisited how the number of days between meter readings and sending bills can adversely contribute to increased days of exposure.

Poll results

That issue included a poll asking how many days pass between reading meters and mailing bills. Twenty utilities responded, and here are the results of that poll:

If you missed the poll, you can click here to take it.

If your utility is one that mails bills within two or three days of reading meters, congratulations, you’ve figured out how to do it efficiently!

If your utility falls in the four to seven day range, this is what I would call normal – there’s room for improvement, but it’s not excessive.

However, if your utility takes eight or more days, as the majority of the responses, I consider this to be excessive. I would encourage you to evaluate why it takes so long and see if you can find room for improvement. If you can’t figure out how to reduce the time between reading and billing on your own, please give me a call to see how a business review could assist you.

Reading inactive meters

While we’re on the topic of meter readings, let’s revisit reading inactive meters for vacant accounts, a topic I touched on briefly while discussing meter reading best practices.

From the best I can tell, in most cases the practice of not reading inactive meters is a symptom of the TTWWADI syndrome

From the best I can tell, in most cases the practice of not reading inactive meters is a symptom of the TTWWADI syndrome, dating back to when most utilities read meters on paper and entered them manually. Not reading inactive meters was thought to be a time saving tactic for both the meter readers and office staff.

With the advent of handhelds and automated meter reading systems, there is no reason not to read inactive meters. Reading inactive meters is your best tool for detecting customers who may have moved into a vacant home without properly initiating service. For water utilities, it’s also the best way to determine if there is a leak at a vacant property.

Do you read inactive meters?

Does your utility read inactive meters? Please take a moment to to take this quick poll and I’ll publish the results in the next issue.

Do you operate as efficiently as possible?

If you aren’t sure your utility is operating as efficiently as it could be, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help your utility.

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© 2015 Gary Sanders