Estimated meter reading survey results

If you remember, the last Utility Information Pipeline included a short survey asking how your utility handles estimated meter readings. Readers representing 15 utilities responded to the survey and this issue includes an analysis of their responses.

Primary method of reading meters

The first survey question asked what the utility’s primary method of reading meters is. Here is a graph of those responses (clicking on any of the charts will open a larger graphic in a new window):

As you can see, the overwhelming response was drive-by AMR systems. Based on my experience, I don’t feel this is representative of all utilities, but this is what the survey is based on.

Reasons for estimating meter readings

The second question asked for what reasons do utilities estimate meter readings. Here are the results (the total responses exceed 15 because many utilities estimate for multiple reasons):

I was pleased to see that none of the respondents estimate readings as a routine practice rather than reading each billing period.

Limiting consecutive estimates

The third question asked “If you estimate because of inaccessible meters, do you have a limit to the number of consecutive estimates before you require the occupant to provide access to the meter?”. Here are the responses from the seven utilities that estimate due to inaccessible meters:

Of the five utilities that limit the number of estimates, none allow more than two consecutive estimates before requiring the customer provide access to the meter:

Monthly threshold for estimates

The next question asked if the utility has a monthly threshold for which they consider estimated readings to be excessive. Here are the responses to that question:

If you read the last Utility Information Pipeline, you know this all started because a professional colleague contacted me inquiring if I knew of an industry standard for estimated meter readings.

Surprisingly, only two utilities have a monthly threshold. The good news is they both responded with a threshold of two percent, which is the number I had provided to my colleague.

Creative responses

The final question asked the respondents to describe any creative ways they deal with estimated meter readings.

Most of the responses to this question described the utilities’ policies for calculating estimates, but one response was my favorite…

“When customers refuse to provide access to meters after multiple notifications we increase the estimated amount.”

What better way to get your customer to cooperate and provide access to their meter than to estimate their usage on the high side. We all know customers will respond to a higher than normal bill!

Free rates webinar

I’ve written previously about rates dashboards from the Environmental Finance Center at UNC. This Thursday, March 16 at 2:00pm, staff from the EFC and the North Carolina League of Municipalities will present a free webinar presenting the State of Rates in North Carolina and the 2017 update to the North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard.

Click here to register for the free webinar.

Do your meter reading practices need review?

If you want to reduce the number of estimates, or otherwise improve your meter reading process, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help.

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© 2017 Gary Sanders

What is an acceptable percentage of estimated readings?

I’m originally from upstate New York, where water meters are located in basements or cellars to keep them from freezing. The small town where I grew up operated a water system and, with limited staff, frequently estimated meter readings. My mother was aware of this and, after several billing periods without her meter being read, was convinced they were overestimating her usage. So she called and made arrangements for the meter reader to come and read her meter. Much to her chagrin, they had been underestimating her reading all those months and her next water bill was much higher than the bills she thought were already excessive!

 
Estimated meter reading
 

An inquiry from a colleague

Last year, I had a professional colleague contact me with the following questions:

“Do you by chance know if there is an industry standard for estimated meter reads?  I know you would want this number to be as low as possible but is there an industry target that would indicate a utility’s meter reading capabilities?”

My response was:

“I’m not aware of any industry standard for estimated meter readings. Off the top of my head, I would think anything greater than about 2% would be excessive unless there were extenuating circumstances (such as snow in an area like ours in North Carolina where utilities aren’t prepared to read in that kind of weather).”

This is where you get to help…

Previous Utility Information Pipelines have addressed meter reading best practices and alternating actual readings and estimates as a way of reducing costs, but none have addressed routine estimates.

In order to better answer my colleague’s question, I’ve put together a short survey asking how your utility handles estimated meter readings. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey by clicking here.

The results of the survey will be published in the next Utility Information Pipeline.

Do you need to review your meter reading practices?

If your meter reading could be improved upon, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help.

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

© 2017 Gary Sanders

Spring forward, fall back

As most of us entered daylight saving time slightly over a week ago, and the first day of spring was only two days ago, has your utility made preparations for spring?

Just as your local fire department encourages everyone to replace smoke detector batteries, the start and end of daylight saving time should bring about housekeeping chores in your office as well.

Seasonally adjusted high/low parameters

As temperatures warm in the spring and cool off in the fall, your customers’ usage patterns adjust according to the season. With this in mind, if your billing system determines out of range meter readings by applying high and low percentages to your customers’ average usage, you should seasonally adjust those high and low parameters.

Energy utilities

If your utility is an energy supplier (electricity or natural gas), spring marks the transition from winter heating season to more moderate temperatures, and less energy usage. Therefore, it makes sense to adjust the high and low limits down in the spring and back up in the fall.

Water utilities

Conversely, for water providers, spring brings about more watering of lawns and gardens and increased usage. Accordingly, you should adjust the high and low limits for water consumption up in the spring and back down in the fall.

Does your meter reading process need reviewing?

If your utility doesn’t seasonally adjust high and low meter reading parameters, or if you think any other internal process could be improved, 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.

Don’t miss your chance

In a recent issue, I introduced the Utility Staffing Survey. This survey is designed to determine what is adequate staffing for a utility office. If you haven’t already completed the survey and would like to participate, please click here to complete the Utility Staffing Survey. This should take less than five minutes to complete. I will publish the results in a future Utility Information Pipeline.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to complete the survey. Please feel free to share the survey with your peers at other utilities.

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© 2016 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

Revisiting days of exposure

I’ve written previously about minimizing days of exposure, and it’s a topic that deserves revisiting.

Components of days of exposure

If you remember, the total days of exposure is comprised of six different components:

  • Days between meter readings
  • Days until bills are mailed
  • Days until due date
  • Days until bills are delinquent
  • Days until final notice is mailed
  • Days until cut-off

One of the areas you have the most control over is how many days elapse between reading meters and mailing bills.

An actual scenario

Recently, while visiting with a customer, I asked the manager how long it takes them after reading meters to review the meter readings, calculate bills and send the bill file to the outsource printer.

The answer, which took me totally by surprise, was three weeks. When I questioned this, the response was the billing staff says that’s how long it takes. I didn’t press the issue, although I strongly suspected this may be a case of the TTWWADI syndrome.

The conversation continued on to how a particular customer’s misread meter was handled. The manager went to get the paperwork for the specific case in question and it turns out two full weeks had passed between the date the meter reading edit list was printed and when the field technician reread the meter.

How long does it take you?

I can think of no good reason why it should take two full weeks to get a reread returned to the office.

How long does it take your office between reading meters and mailing bills? Please take a moment to take this quick poll and I’ll publish the results in the next issue.

Is your office guilty of this?

The billing clerks for this customer are new hires since the system was installed and could probably benefit from followup training. I wasn’t even conducting a business review and this customer benefited from free consulting. Just imagine what a complete business review might discover!

If you think the way you process rereads (or do anything else in your office, for that matter) takes longer than it should, 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

5 things to consider as you move forward

In a previous article, I wrote about factors to consider when deciding whether to use an outside contractor or your own staff to change meters in preparation for the transition to an automated meter reading system.

Should you decide to hire a contractor, here are some things to keep in mind before turning them loose to start changing meters.

Software interface

Does your billing software have the capability of creating an electronic file of meters to be changed and, in turn, importing those changed meters? Hopefully it can, because updating a mass meter change-out rather than manually entering each change-out is a huge time savings for your billing staff.

Moving meters to a new route

Will your AMR or AMI system use different software for reading the meters than you currently use? If so, these meters will most likely need to be exported in separate interface files. For many billing systems, this means moving the changed-out meters to a different route.

Coordination of the process

An earlier Utility Information Pipeline examined the timing of creating your meter reading file at the right time. The point of that issue was that you shouldn’t create all of your meter reading files at the same time. This is especially true if you are in the midst of a mass meter change-out program.

It is imperative the meter that was loaded in the handheld is the same one your meter reader will encounter when reading that route. Unless you have extremely good communication and coordination with your contractor, creating the reading file too early in the month greatly increases the chance your contractor will have changed the meter by the time that route is read. Creating the reading file the afternoon before or the morning of reading a route virtually eliminates the possibility of this happening.

Photograph of the old meter

Many contractors use tablets or smartphones in the field to log the meter change-out. While negotiating a contract with them, inquire if they can take a digital photograph of the old meter’s register before removing it. This can be most helpful in resolving any disputes with customers over what the correct final reading for the old meter was.

Capture latitude/longitude

Again, many contractors have the ability to capture the GPS coordinates – latitude and longitude – for each meter. If you don’t already have this information stored in your billing system, a mass meter change-out is a great way to capture it.

Questions about a mass meter change-out?

If you have questions about doing a mass meter change-out or other meter reading best practices, 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 be sure your utility is adhering to best practices.

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© 2015 Gary Sanders