Over the course of the next few Utility Information Pipeline issues, I’ll be analyzing and reviewing some of the trends I observed from the 2019 Utility Fee Survey. If you need a refresher, here are links to the three results issues for the 2019 Utility Fee Survey:
But before we start analyzing the data, let’s take a look at something else that stood out to me.
Generic email addresses
One of the things that surprised me about the survey responses is the number of utilities still using generic email addresses. By this, I mean an email address without a domain name specific to the utility. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org rather than email@example.com.
Over the seven-year history of the Utility Fee Survey, the percentage of generic email addresses has dropped slightly, with the exception of a small uptick in 2017:
A bigger surprise
Even more surprising to me were the attendees from a recent utility conference where I presented my Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities presentation. A whopping 68.75% of the utility staff (this excludes board members and non-utility employees) attending the presentation had generic email addresses!
Branded email means credibility
A Verisign survey, dating back to September 2015, “found that 65 percent of consumers believe a company-branded email is more credible than a business using a free email account.” Even though your utility may not be a for-profit business, the need for credibility is no different!
If this was the case in 2015, I have to believe it’s even more important now – over four years later!
How to solve this
There’s an easy, low-cost way to solve this. First, secure a domain name for your utility. If you already have a website, you’ve got this step covered.
Next, signup for Google’s G Suite which provides branded email, shared calendars, and cloud storage for as low as $6 per user per month. You get the same easy-to-use email interface you may already be using for your personal email with a branded email address identifying your utility.
If you’re considering doing this, please contact me and I can provide you with a promotion code good for 20% off the first year of either the G Suite Basic plan or G Suite Business plan.
Questions about how to do this?
If you have questions about getting started with branded email addresses for your utility, please give me a call at 919-673-4050, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be glad to assist you.
© 2019 Gary Sanders
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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com to learn how a business review could benefit your utility.
© 2017 Gary Sanders
Are your customers asking if they can receive their bill electronically rather than receiving a paper bill in the mail? Paperless billing (or e-billing) allows a utility to present its customers with bills in electronic from rather than mailing a traditional paper bill.
The most obvious reason to offer paperless billing is cost savings. The cost to mail a bill includes postage, the bill itself (postcard or full page), envelope for full page bills, any additional inserts (return envelope and bill stuffers), consumables (toner or printer ribbons) and labor to print and prepare bills for mailing.
If you outsource the printing of your bills, these costs are passed on to you from your outsource printer. If you print bills in-house, some of these costs are direct costs (postage, forms, consumables and envelopes). The rest are indirect costs (salary and benefits for the time involved in preparing bills to be mailed).
How much can we save?
For full page bills, the very best automation compatible presort discount is the 5-digit presort rate of $.35. This rate is only available if you mail your bills using CASS certification and all of your bills are mailed to a presorted five digit zip code. Postage rates increase for less specific delivery areas (3-digit zip prefix, AADC, etc). These rates compare to the full first class postage rate of $.45 if you don’t presort. For postcards, the 5-digit presort rate is $.229 and the full first class postage rate is $.32.
For purposes of illustration, let’s use $.50/bill for the total cost of mailing a full page bill. This includes postage, forms, supplies and labor. If you bill monthly, for every customer that elects to stop receiving a paper bill, you will save $6.00 per year!
For many of your customers, the convenience of being able to receive their bill electronically is key. I can attest to this from personal experience. As someone who travels frequently for work, I have been receiving as many bills as I can electronically for several years. I also pay all of my bills using my bank’s online banking bill pay option. This means I can pay all of my bills while I’m traveling.
Customer adoption rates for e-billing will vary from utility to utility depending on the demographic of your customer base. If your customers make use of online bill pay or pay using IVR, chances are they would also enjoy the convenience of receiving their bill electronically.
Bill presentment options
With e-billing, utilities either attach an image of the bill to an e-mail or send an e-mail letting the customer know their bill is available to be viewed online. Each option has advantages and disadvantages.
The advantage of attaching the bill to an e-mail is the customer doesn’t have to login to a website to view their bill. The disadvantage is producing and attaching a PDF document to an e-mail and the lack of security in attaching a bill to an e-mail.
The advantage of viewing the bill online is requiring your customer to login, so the information is more secure. You can also post more than just the most recent bill online, giving your customers the added convenience of seeing previous month’s bills as well. While the customer is logged in to your website to view their bill, they should also be able to pay it without having to login to another site.
How do we get started?
The first step is to contact your software vendor to see if they offer a paperless billing solution. Once you have that in place, getting your customers to sign up is the next step.
The key to higher adoption rates is to target specific customer groups that would be most likely to take advantage of e-billing. This includes those customers who pay using their bank’s online banking bill pay option, and those who use your online bill pay or IVR payment options. These customers have demonstrated that they are not intimidated by technology and are most likely to embrace paperless billing.
Another way to higher adoption rates is to ask! Have your customer service staff ask every new customer applying for service if they would prefer to receive an e-bill, just like they ask if new customers want to sign up for bank drafts. If you don’t ask every new customer if they want to sign up for bank drafts, you should! It’s the easiest way to collect payments.
If you have questions about paperless billing options, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2012 Gary Sanders
This issue is primarily targeted at utilities that do not use organization-wide e-mail addresses and calendar, but even if your utility does use an enterprise e-mail system, don’t stop reading just yet – you might learn how you can save money!
I have noticed that a number of our customers, and even some of the Rural Water Associations that I work with, do not use organization-wide e-mail addresses. Instead they use personal e-mail addresses from one of the popular free e-mail services or they use their internet provider’s e-mail service. For example, rather than using an e-mail address of email@example.com, these customers use firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Is there a problem with this practice?
Not really, but it does present a face to the public that your utility is small and not very progressive – the same message that not having a website conveys. You do have a website, don’t you…? (If not, take a look at my very first issue here.) Would you like your customers to view your utility as being more in touch with the times? Of course – who wouldn’t?
So let’s take a look at why this is… Most likely, it’s because the utility does not want to make the investment to support an enterprise e-mail system. Traditionally, this has meant purchasing and implementing the most widely used server-based e-mail software. And, if you have remote users, this requires installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) so those users can access the e-mail server. Resistance to implementing an in-house e-mail server could be due to any of the following reasons:
- Cost of purchasing the software
- Inadequate server infrastructure
- Lack of technical support
Upon closer scrutiny, aren’t all of these reasons cost-based? If you have to upgrade a server to support enterprise e-mail, there is a cost associated with that. Hiring outside technical expertise costs money as well.
Is there another option?
Of course there is! Google Apps from Google provides the following applications for just $50 per user per year:
- Google Calendar
- Google Docs
- Google Groups
- Google Sites
So if your utility has 10 employees who need e-mail and calendar access, the cost is $500 per year plus the registration fee for your domain name. Google Apps is web-based, so you can access your e-mail, calendar and documents from anywhere.
In addition, if your organization is required by public records laws to maintain an archive of all e-mails, Google Apps with Postini meets that requirement.
At Logics, we switched from an internal server based e-mail system to using Google Apps at the end of August last year. You may have noticed that we changed from using e-mail addresses with logics-software.com domain name to logicssolutions.com. The reason for this was our transition to using Google Apps. The migration to Google Apps was seamless and, I must admit, very easy (I don’t necessarily adapt to change any better than anyone else, even though helping folks change is my business). I can now access my e-mail and calendar any time I have internet access without having to connect to our office VPN. Plus, I love the easy integration with my Android phone!
If you have questions about Google Apps or would like assistance making the case to convince your board to implement an enterprise e-mail system, give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2011 Gary Sanders