utility information pipeline

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.

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© 2017 Gary Sanders

A more efficient way to deal with email

Surprisingly, over 8% of my newsletter subscribers still use an email address where the domain name doesn’t match their website address. These subscribers use email addresses such as hometownwater@gmail.com or townofhometown@bellsouth.net.

While this certainly works for sending and receiving email and is a cost effective solution, it presents the appearance of a mom-and-pop outfit, rather than a professional utility.

Did you know you can have business email for your domain, for example you@yourutility.com, for as little as $5.00/user per month?

For $5.00/user per month, $10.00/user per month if you need to archive emails (for example, if you are a public utility subject to Freedom of Information Act requests), you can subscribe to Google’s G Suite. G Suite, formerly known as Google Apps, includes Gmail, Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Drive.

Cloud solutions

The advantages of G Suite over a single email address include the ability to coordinate calendars, collaborate on spreadsheets or documents, and access shared documents without the need for a server in your office.

With more and more utilities choosing to host their utility billing software in the cloud, why not host your email, calendar, and shared documents the same way?

In addition to eliminating the need to purchase, maintain, and upgrade internal servers, a cloud based email and calendar solution provides access to enterprise email without the need for a virtual private network (VPN).

Free, informative webinar tomorrow

Don’t forget the free remittance processing webinar I wrote about in the last Utility Information Pipeline. This webinar is hosted by Logics and our partner, ProfitStars, tomorrow, November 29, 2017 at 2:00pm eastern time.

During this webinar you will learn how ProfitStars’ RemitPlus remittance processing system can save time entering mail payments. if you haven’t already registered for the webinar, you can do so by clicking here.

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.

Does moving to the cloud make sense?

Do you ever wonder if your office would operate more efficiently hosting your software in the cloud? 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

Want to learn more about remittance processing?

If you’ve been a reader of the Utility Information Pipeline for any length of time, you know one of my recurring themes is improving efficiency in utility business offices.

One of the easiest ways for utility offices to become more efficient is to offer better options for your customers to pay, beyond the basic checks in the mail and walk-in payments.

Previously, I’ve written about the easiest way to collect payments, accepting credit cards, online bill pay systems, automating phone credit card payments, streamlining online banking checks, and alternatives to entering mail payments.

Free, informative webinar

One of the alternatives to entering mail payments manually is a remittance processing system. If you’d like to learn more about remittance processing systems, Logics is hosting a free webinar with our partner, ProfitStars, on Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 2:00pm eastern time. During this webinar you will learn how ProfitStars’ RemitPlus remittance processing system can save time entering mail payments.

Utilizing a desktop scanner, RemitPlus software provides efficiencies that some customers have claimed cut their check processing time by over 75%. Several Utility Information Pipeline readers are already taking advantage of the great tools provided by RemitPlus.

Please plan to participate in this informational webinar to discover the benefits of RemitPlus, including:

  • Scanning software that allows check and coupon payments to be auto-posted (i.e. without human attention to each item)
  • Exporting of both a Check21 bank deposit file and an auto-posting file from a single pass through a scanner
  • Unlimited storage and simplified access of check images for improved customer service
  • Elimination of problematic paper checks from bank bill pay systems

To register for the webinar, please click here.

Are you processing payments as efficiently as possible?

Do you ever wonder if your office could more efficiently process payments? 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

Is this really poor customer service…?

Recently, I was presenting my Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities presentation to the Alliance of Indiana Rural Water Fall Conference.

Part of my presentation deals with offering additional payment methods, such as bank drafts, online bill pay, and IVR payments. While discussing these, I stress how important it is to offer convenient ways for customers to pay without visiting the office.

Audience concern

About midway through my presentation, a gentleman on the back row raised his hand to voice an objection. This gentleman works in the industry, but not for a utility, and his concern was something to the effect of “it sounds like you are advocating for utilities to be less customer friendly by encouraging their customers not to come to the office to pay.”

My response

I explained that, quite the opposite, I firmly believe in – and advocate for – utilities providing outstanding customer service. I went on to explain that some customers, especially millennials, actually prefer not to interact in person.

By offering a fully integrated online bill pay system where customers can research their billing and usage history and make payments, your utility is actually providing an invaluable customer service. By doing so, and thereby reducing the number of calls or visits to your office, you actually free up staff time to more effectively deal with customers who have more serious issues.

By devoting enough time to adequately research and assist customers with excessively high bills or to set up a payment plan, your utility is able to offer even better customer service. If your staff time is consumed with walk-in customers merely wanting to make payments, they won’t have the time to devote to those customers who truly need the attention.

Do you ever wonder…?

Do you ever wonder if your office staff spends too much time dealing with walk-in customers? 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

What’s a compound meter?

In the last Utility Information Pipeline, I wrote about the pros and cons of metering individual premises. That article went on to briefly mention the possibly needing a compound meter, if a master meter were to be installed. So, what exactly is a compound meter…?

Compound meters

Compound meters (sometimes referred to as high/low meters because they have high and low flow sides) are used in situations where large volumes of water need to be metered, but at other times slower flows must also be recorded.

Such a scenario could be a large, multi-unit apartment building or a hotel that must be able to meter high usage first thing in the morning, when many residents are showering at the same time, but also measure low flows in the middle of night to record the occasional toilet flush. A manufacturing plant that uses large volumes of water while the plant is in operation, and minimal usage at other times, is another example of a prime candidate for a compound meter.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency has a good, easy to understand description of compound meters in this article.

For billing purposes, with compound meters, two sets of meter readings are taken – a larger meter for the high flows (the “high side”) and another, smaller meter, for the low flows (the “low side”). The usages are then added together and the customer is billed for the combined usage.

Don’t be fooled

The “high side” of a compound meter may not always be the higher reading of the two. The high side could have already rolled over, and have a lower reading, or there could be relatively little high demand. In the latter case, most of the water used would be metered by the “low side”.

Does your billing system support compound meters?

Many older billing systems don’t properly support compound meters. Some require creating two accounts – one for the high side meter and another for the low side meter. Others require manipulating the readings before entering them as a single, combined meter.

If your billing system doesn’t easily handle compound meters, it may be time for a change. If you’re in this situation, 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

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Gary Sanders

I am the Senior Consultant with Logics, LLC in Raleigh, North Carolina. I have over 35 years experience developing and implementing utility billing and financial software and consulting with utilities and municipalities. My bi-weekly email newsletter draws from my experience in working with over 200 utilities and local governments to offer insight into how utilities can improve operations and better serve their customers. If you have a comment or a suggestion for a future email, please contact me by calling 919-232-2320 or sending an email to gsanders@logicssolutions.com



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