Invitation to participate in 2017 Utility Fee Survey

You’re invited to participate in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey. I’m researching what fees different utilities charge and how much they charge for each fee.

2012 and 2015 Survey Results

I conducted similar surveys in 2012 and 2015 and you can review the results here:

The Utility Fee Survey will become a biennial survey, alternating years with the Utility Staffing 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 2017 Utility Fee Survey

If you would like to participate, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

I’m hoping for as much participation as possible in the survey, so please feel free to pass this on to your colleagues at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey.

Aging workforce seminar

A major issue facing management of all utilities, large and small, is an aging workforce. As more key employees approach retirement age, utilities across the country are having to face the issue of replacing the loss of institutional and operational knowledge these long-time workers hold.

Does your utility have a plan in place to deal with the aging workforce?

Upcoming seminar

The Utility Management Committee of the NC AWWA-WEA, of which I am a member, is sponsoring an Aging Workforce Issues – Best Practices Panel & Luncheon seminar. This seminar, originally scheduled for last October, has been rescheduled to Thursday, May 4 from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

If you are located within driving distance of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I encourage you to join us. If not, you can still participate in a live webcast of the seminar.

The seminar moderator is J.D. Solomon, PE, CRE, CMRP; Vice President of CH2M. The panelists are:

  • Rod Dones, Organizational Development & Learning Specialist, Charlotte Water
  • Tamara Byers, Human Resources Manager, Charlotte Water
  • Ed Kerwin, PE, Executive Director, Orange Water & Sewer Authority
  • Matt Bernhardt, Director of Public Works and Utilities, City of Gastonia
  • Courtney Driver, PE, Utilities Director, City of Winston-Salem

For more information, or to register for the seminar, please click here.

Is your fee schedule up-to-date?

If, after completing the 2017 Utility Fee Survey, you’re wondering if your fee schedule is up-to-date, 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 you prepare for the transition.

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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.

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© 2017 Gary Sanders

What is your policy regarding loose coins?

You’ve probably read articles online or seen television news accounts of irate customers protesting a bill by paying entirely with coins. If you haven’t, just Google “coins as payment protest”. There’s even this story about a Michigan woman paying her entire $569.81 adjusted water bill with coins!

Listserv inquiry

A post from earlier this summer in a listserv I follow inquired if others in the listserv had policies prohibiting customers from paying with an excessive amount of coins. Apparently the poster has experienced this problem, or is at least interested in not experiencing it in the future!

Are you prepared to keep it from happening?

In an earlier Utility Information Pipeline, I wrote about a utility that doesn’t accept cash at all, so for them this wouldn’t be an issue. However, if your utility is like most I’m familiar with, you still accept cash and, without a policy to stop it, could be susceptible to an angry customer trying to pay with all coins.

Most banks won’t accept an excessive amount of coins for deposit unless they are rolled. So requiring any payment in coins (in excess of the amount of a roll of that denomination) to be rolled does not seem unreasonable. Also, entirely reasonable in my opinion, would be a limit to how much in rolled coins can be tendered for a single transaction.

How do you handle loose coins?

How does your utility deal with loose coins? Please take this quick poll.

 

Once you’ve taken the poll, you can see the results to see how other utilities responded. If you have a loose coins policy, please feel free to post the specifics of your policy in the comments. Click here to see the results.

Are your payment policies up-to-date?

If your payment policies are outdated, or if you think you could improve on how you take payments, 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 improve your operation.

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© 2016 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.

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© 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

Final week for the Utility Staffing Survey

Do you think your office is understaffed?

Have you had to justify the number of positions in your office to upper management?

Or maybe you’ve wondered how your office staffing compares to similar sized utilities?

Overstaffed Understaffed

Here’s your chance to find out…

I’ve developed a Utility Staffing Survey. In addition to asking how many positions your office has, the survey includes questions about labor intensive practices such as payment processing and bill printing.

Complete the Utility Staffing Survey

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.

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 sending it to other utilities.

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© 2016 Gary Sanders