2018 Utility Staffing Survey Results – Part II

This is the second of two consecutive Utility Information Pipelines reporting the results of the 2016 Utility Staffing Survey. 82 utilities, representing 20 states, ranging in size from 134 to 90,000 active accounts participated in the survey.

Last week’s issue summarized the demographics of the survey respondents as well as staffing levels and factors outside the control of the utilities. Today’s issue deals with practices each utility can control, such as payment processing and bill printing.

In addition to asking the number of office employees, how many active customers, what services each utility bills, and annual customer turnover, the survey also asked how each utility handles various labor intensive processes.

Meter Reading Processing

In terms of office staffing, the real distinction in time savings in only between manually entering readings or importing them from some sort of automated reading process. However, unlike two years ago, this year’s survey did distinguish between whether the imported readings were from handhelds or an AMR or AMI system.

As expected, most utilities in the survey have automated their meter reading process. However, this year’s survey included 16 utilities that still enter meter readings, up from only five two years ago. Surprisingly, three of these utilities were in the upper 50% of most efficiently staffed offices. The others were all within the bottom third of least efficiently staffed offices, as represented by the graph below (clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window).


 

Bill Printing

Bill printing and the related tasks required for preparing bills for mailing – separating postcards or folding and inserting full page bills, sorting, and traying the mail – are very labor intensive tasks.

Not surprisingly, the top three and 27 of the top 32 most efficiently staffed offices use an outsource printer to print their bills. On the other hand, only four of the 15 least efficiently staffed offices outsource their billing printing.


 

Mail Payment Processing

Mail payment processing is quite possibly the most labor intensive process in most utility offices. For that reason, many utilities have sought to automate the processing of mail payments, either by scanning barcodes on the bill, or using a remittance processing system or a bank lockbox.

As anticipated, 14 of the 15 most efficient utilities automate the mail payment process in some way, while 16 of the 21 least efficient utilities manually enter mail payments.


 

Phone Credit Card Payments

The final area the survey asked about is phone credit card payments. This can be an extremely laborious process considering the customer service representative must look up the account, tell the customer how much is owed, take the credit card number and process the payment authorization and, finally, enter the payment in the system.

Somewhat surprisingly, 5 of the 19 most efficiently staffed offices have a person in the office take phone credit card payments.


 

Is your office adequately staffed?

If you think your utility is understaffed or could operate more efficiently, 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 determine this.
 

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

© 2018 Gary Sanders

2018 Utility Staffing Survey Results – Part I

For the past few months, I’ve been conducting the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey. This survey has become a biennial survey, alternating years with the Utility Fee Survey. The initial Utility Staffing Survey was in 2016 and, for sake of comparison, here are the results from that survey:

This is the first of two Utility Information Pipeline issues publishing the results of the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey. This issue will examine demographics of the survey respondents, staffing levels, and factors outside the control of the utilities. The next issue will examine staffing levels and practices each utility can control, such as such as payment processing and bill printing.

Demographics of survey respondents

82 utilities, representing 20 states,ranging in size from 134 to 90,000 active accounts participated in the survey. Click on the links below to see charts of the various demographic data for the survey respondents:

Number of responses by state

Size of utilities responding

Size of utilities under 20,000 accounts responding

Types of utilities responding

Services provided by responding utilities

Accounts per employee

To arrive at an accurate index to compare utilities of differing sizes and billing frequencies, I came up with the number of accounts billed annually per employee. This formula multiplied the number of active accounts by the number of times each account is billed annually (12 for monthly billing, 6 for bi-monthly billing, 4 for quarterly billing, and 3 for three times a year billing) then divided that product by the total number of office employees. The higher the result, the more efficient the office should be.

The results ranged from 300 to 46,957 as represented by the graph below (clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window).

One disclaimer applies. Two of the top five most efficient offices are local governments where payments are taken in a different department, so their staffing numbers do not include cashiers.

Annual customer turnover

I wondered if the turnover in customers would be a factor in how efficiently offices are staffed, so the survey asked how many applications for service (including routine move in/move outs and new construction) each utility processes per year.

Some utilities billing only property owners, and those will have a much lower turnover rate than utilities billing tenants.

Not surprisingly, the annual turnover rates ranged widely, from .05% to 45.63%. On the low end is a utility in a predominately rural area that only bills property owners. On the high end is a city with a large military installation nearby that bills tenants.

This year, unlike two years ago, there is a slight correlation between annual turnover rates and office efficiency. Of the 15 most efficiently staffed utilities, only four of them have annual turnover rates over 10% and only one of those is over 15%.

Major services billed

The final variable I examined for this issue was major services billed (water, sewer, electric and natural gas) looking for a correlation between the number of services billed and office staffing. I only considered the major services, because other services, such as garbage, stormwater, or area lights, generally are billed as flat-rate services and are not nearly as labor intensive to bill.

As was the case in 2016, utilities billing multiple metered services require more staff than those billing for only a single metered service. This was even more convincing this year, as 31 of the 32 most efficient offices bill for only one metered service, as shown below. The one anomaly also happens to be one of the utilities mentioned above that doesn’t collect payments.

Next issue

The next issue will analyze staffing levels and labor saving practices each utility can control, such as automation and outsourcing.

Is your office adequately staffed?

If you think your utility is understaffed or could operate more efficiently, 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 determine this.

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

© 2018 Gary Sanders

Early observations from the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey

As you know, the last issue of the Utility Information Pipeline was an invitation to participate in the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey. In addition to asking questions about the number of staff in various positions and how your office handles labor intensive practices such as payment processing and bill printing, the survey also includes questions about what percentage of payments are received by various methods.

Early survey results

Of the responses to the survey received so far, 25% of the respondents who supplied answers to the percentage of payments received by payment method responded with 0% for bank drafts!

I’ve written before about how bank drafts are the easiest way to collect payments and even offered suggestions for how to get more customers to sign up for bank drafts, not once, but twice!

When I advocate for bank drafts, I’m talking about sending an ACH file from your billing system to the bank. I’m not referring to going to your bank’s website and changing the amount to be drafted for each customer each month and I’m definitely not talking about filling out paper drafts by hand!

When I started in this business in the early 1980’s, it wasn’t unusual for a utility clerk to have a drawer full of rubber banded stacks of preprinted bank drafts that looked much like blank checks. The clerk would have to date the form and fill in the amount to be deducted from the customer’s account. Believe it or not, I recently encountered a utility still doing bank drafts this way!

Why aren’t you accepting bank drafts?

Knowing how easy it is and what a time saver bank drafts are, I’m frankly surprised when I encounter a utility that doesn’t accept bank drafts.

If your billing software won’t allow you to process bank drafts, it’s past time to replace you software!

If your bank won’t accept an ACH file, it’s time to find a new bank!

If it’s your own reluctance holding you back because “that’s the way we’ve always done it“, trust me when I say once you’ve implemented bank drafts you’ll be glad you did it!

Complete the Utility Staffing Survey

If you haven’t yet completed the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey, please click here to complete the survey. This should take less than five minutes to complete. The results will be published in a future Utility Information Pipeline.

Please feel free to share this survey with your peers at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to complete the survey and for sharing it with other utilities.

2018 rates dashboard for North Carolina

I’ve written in the past about resources, including the Environmental Finance Center at UNC. The EFC has just released the North Carolina Water And Wastewater Rates Dashboard for 2018. This dashboard contains rates for 495 utilities in North Carolina.

Is your office offering 21st century payment options?

If you’re not currently offering bank drafts, or think your office is otherwise behind the times with the payment options you offer, 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.

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

© 2018 Gary Sanders

Invitation to participate in the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey

Have you ever wondered if your office is understaffed…?

Do you need to justify a new position to management…?

Here’s your chance to find out!

You’re invited to participate in the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey. The survey will examine staffing levels and how your office handles labor intensive practices such as payment processing and bill printing.

2016 survey results

I conducted a similar survey in 2016 and you can review the results here:

The Utility Staffing Survey is a biennial survey, alternating years with the Utility Fee Survey.

The results of the survey will be published in a series of upcoming e-mail newsletters. To be sure you receive the results of the survey, if you haven’t already signed up for my free e-mail newsletter, please click here to subscribe.

Complete the Utility Staffing Survey

Please click here to complete the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey. This should take less than five minutes to complete. I will publish the results in a future Utility Information Pipeline.

Please feel free to share this survey with your peers at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to complete the survey and for sharing it with other utilities.

Could your office operate more efficiently?

If you think your office is understaffed or could run more efficiently, 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.

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

© 2018 Gary Sanders

2016 Utility Staffing Survey Results – Part II

This is the second of two consecutive Utility Information Pipelines reporting the results of the 2016 Utility Staffing Survey. 73 utilities, representing 20 states, ranging in size from 200 to 80,000 active accounts participated in the survey.

Last week’s issue summarized the demographics of the survey respondents as well as staffing levels and factors outside the control of the utilities. Today’s issue deals with practices each utility can control, such as payment processing and bill printing.

In addition to asking the number of office employees, how many active customers, what services each utility bills, and annual customer turnover, the survey also asked how each utility handles various labor intensive processes.

Meter Reading Processing

Because this survey focused on office staffing, the meter reading question only distinguished between manually entering readings or importing them from some sort of automated reading process. The survey did not distinguish between whether the imported readings were from handhelds or an AMR or AMI system.

As expected, most utilities in the survey have automated their meter reading process, as only five of the responding utilities still enter meter readings. Somewhat surprisingly, two of these utilities were in the upper 50% of most efficiently staffed offices. The other three were all within the six least efficiently staffed offices, as represented by the graph below (clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window).

Meter Reading Processing

Bill Printing

Bill printing and the related tasks required for preparing bills for mailing – separating postcards or folding and inserting full page bills, sorting, and traying the mail – are very labor intensive tasks.

Not surprisingly, the top six and 19 of the top 24 most efficiently staffed offices use an outsource printer to print their bills. On the other hand, only four of the 20 least efficiently staffed offices outsource their bill printing.

Bill Printing

Mail Payment Processing

Mail payment processing is quite possibly the most labor intensive process in most utility offices. For that reason, many utilities have sought to automate the processing of mail payments, either by scanning barcodes on the bill, or using a remittance processing system or a bank lockbox.

As anticipated, 27 of the 31 most efficient utilities automate the mail payment process in some way, while the bottom 10 and 20 of the 24 least efficient utilities manually enter mail payments.

Mail Payment Processing

Phone Credit Card Payments

The final area the survey asked about is phone credit card payments. This can be an extremely laborious process considering the customer service representative must look up the account, tell the customer how much is owed, take the credit card number and process the payment authorization and, finally, enter the payment in the system.

Somewhat surprisingly, 13 of the 26 most efficiently staffed offices have a person in the office take phone credit card payments.

Phone Credit Card Payments

Is your office adequately staffed?

If you think your utility is understaffed or could operate more efficiently, 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 determine this.

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

© 2016 Gary Sanders

2016 Utility Staffing Survey Results – Part I

For the past few months, I’ve been conducting the 2016 Utility Staffing Survey. This survey grew out of a business review I recently completed for a customer. As a part of that review, I suspected their office was understaffed and e-mailed a few questions to 30 of Logics’ largest customers. The results of that informal survey were intriguing enough to make me want to conduct a more formal survey across a larger base of utilities.

This is the first of two Utility Information Pipeline issues publishing the results of the 2016 Utility Staffing Survey. This issue will examine staffing levels and factors outside the control of the utilities. The next issue will examine staffing levels and practices each utility can control, such as such as payment processing and bill printing.

Demographics of survey respondents

73 utilities, representing 20 states, ranging in size from 200 to 80,000 active accounts participated in the survey. Click on the links below to see charts of the various demographic data:

Accounts per employee

To arrive at an accurate index to compare utilities of differing sizes and billing frequencies, I came up with the number of accounts billed annually per employee. This formula multiplied the number of active accounts by the number of times each account is billed annually (12 for monthly billing, 6 for bi-monthly billing and 4 for quarterly billing) then divided that product by the total number of office employees. The higher the result, the more efficient the office should be.

The results ranged from 1,583 to 41,570 as represented by the graph below (clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window).

One disclaimer applies. At least two of the top six most efficient offices are local governments where payments are taken in a different department, so their staffing numbers do not include cashiers.

Annual Accounts Billed per Office Employee

Annual customer turnover

I wondered if the turnover in customers would be a factor in how efficiently offices are staffed, so the survey asked how many applications for service (including routine move in/move outs and new construction) each utility processes per year.

One question the survey didn’t ask, which in retrospect it should have, is if the utility bills tenants or only property owners. Obviously, those utilities billing only property owners have a much lower turnover rate than utilities billing tenants.

Not surprisingly, the annual turnover rates ranged widely, from .94% to 40.00%. On the low end is a utility in a predominately rural area that only bills property owners. On the high end is a City with multiple college campuses that bills tenants.

As you can see from the graph below, there is no correlation between annual turnover rates and office efficiency.

Annual Accounts Billed per Office Employee with Turnover Rate

Services billed

The final variable I examined for this issue was major services billed (water, sewer, electric and natural gas) looking for a correlation between the number of services billed and office staffing. I only considered the major services, because other services, such as garbage, stormwater, or area lights, generally are billed as flat-rate services and are not nearly as labor intensive to bill. Even though sewer is not generally a metered service, I considered it to be a major service because some of the responding utilities bill only for sewer.

I anticipated utilities billing multiple metered services would require more staff than those billing for only a single metered service. This proved to be the case, as 23 of the 25 most efficient offices bill for only one metered service, as shown below. The one anomaly was the most efficient office, which happens to be one of the utilities mentioned above that doesn’t collect payments.

Annual Accounts Billed per Office Employee by Major Services Billed

Next issue

The next issue will analyze staffing levels and labor saving practices each utility can control, such as automation and outsourcing.

Is your office adequately staffed?

If you think your utility is understaffed or could operate more efficiently, 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 determine this.

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

© 2016 Gary Sanders