Looking back on 2017 and ahead to 2018

As 2017 winds to a close, let me be one of the first to wish you and yours a Happy New Year for 2018!

This issue marks the seventh anniversary of the Utility Information Pipeline! About seven and a half years ago I had the crazy idea of writing a newsletter to share some of my collected wisdom and experiences from my then nearly 30 years of working with utility business offices.

With encouragement from co-workers and, most importantly, my wife, the Utility Information Pipeline was launched. Here we are, seven years and 171 issues later!

When I first started, I had a ready supply of ideas to write about. Now, seven years later, I’ve used all those ideas (and more!) and have to work a little harder to find inspiration. Some weeks, a conversation with a customer or prospect or a recent listserv post will serve as the source of that week’s newsletter. Other weeks, I have to dig a little deeper. So, if you have ideas or suggestions for a future topic, please feel free to email me.

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.

Looking back on 2017

Listed below are the top five most frequently viewed blog posts in 2017, based on page views:

  1. How much is your late fee?
  2. What are these barcodes on my bills?
  3. Do you have a cash handling policy?
  4. What is your leak adjustment policy?
  5. Intelligent Mail barcodes – are you ready…?

The top five posts from 2017 include:

  1. Invitation to participate in 2017 Utility Fee Survey
  2. Have you considered a third party convenience fee?
  3. 5 easy ways to get more bank draft customers
  4. What should your customer service policy include?
  5. 2017 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part III

Looking ahead to 2018

The coming year will bring about the second bi-annual Utility Staffing Survey. The Utility Staffing Survey, like the Utility Fee Survey in odd number years, will become a regular feature in even numbered years.

As time permits, I continue to update my personal website – www. garysandersonline.com. I’m hoping to unveil some new tools for utilities there this year, as well.

As always, If you have ideas or suggestions for a newsletter topic, please feel free to email me.

Is this a good time to consider a business review?

The dead of winter is sometimes the best time to conduct a business review, when things tend to slow down some. If you’ve been considering a business review as an internal check-up, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to discuss a time that’s convenient for you.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Should you accept echecks…?

So you’ve got your online bill pay system in place and now you’re faced with what payment methods to offer. This includes which credit cards to accept and, more importantly, whether or not to accept echecks.

What is an echeck?

Echeck payments provide your customers the opportunity to enter their bank routing and account numbers and submit a payment to be electronically transferred from their bank account. This process is essentially the same as a bank draft, except the customer initiates the process rather than your office sending an ACH file to the bank.

Advantages of echecks

First, let’s examine why you might want to accept echecks. For starters, transaction fees are generally lower for echecks than credit cards. This means, if your utility absorbs the cost of processing online payments without charging a convenience fee, it costs you less to process an echeck than a credit card payment. If you charge a third party convenience fee, your customer will pay less than if they were to pay using a credit card.

Another reason to consider accepting echecks is some customers have checking accounts but no debit card so, without the echeck option, they wouldn’t be able to pay online.

Disadvantages of echecks

As was posted last week on one of the listservs I follow, echecks are subject to being returned if the customer incorrectly enters the echeck information.

This is because, unlike credit cards, there is no validation of the routing or account numbers as your customer is entering the payment. Likewise, there is also no verification of funds availability.

What this means is, unfortunately, echeck transactions are subject to honest mistakes in entering the information or, in some cases, outright abuse. I have had utilities tell me they are certain they have had customers intentionally enter erroneous echeck payments just prior to cut-off day to avoid being disconnected. This can work to the customer’s advantage if your returned check fee is less than your cut-off or reconnect fee.

The only real solution is to not accept echeck transactions and encourage your customers to use a debit card to pay from their checking account.

A reminder for North Carolina utilities

If you work for a North Carolina water utility, you should have received an invitation from the Environmental Finance Center to participate in a Utility Management Survey conducted by the EFC and North Carolina League of Municipalities.

If you, or someone at your utility, didn’t receive this invitation, please email the EFC directly at efc@sog.unc.edu and they will provide you with the specific survey link for your utility.

Should you offer additional payment options?

Do you ever wonder if your office should offer additional payment options? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could benefit your utility.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2017 Gary Sanders