From time to time, I make use of polls to encourage reader engagement. Typically, I will publish the results of the poll in the next newsletter issue or blog post and forget about the poll.
Four years ago, I ran a poll asking which services utilities offer
leak adjustments for. The original poll results included responses from 38 utilities. I don’t even remember why I was looking at the results page on the polling software site, but imagine my surprise when I recently noticed that poll now has 113 responses! That’s 75 additional responses since I initially published the poll results. The updated responses are displayed below (clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window):
Even with the increased number of responses, the trend is very similar to the original 38 responses, as shown below:
Here’s the raw data for both the original and revised poll results:
Comparing the results
Surprising as it was to find that 75 additional people completed the poll since the original results were posted, the updated results aren’t all that much different, proportionally, from the original results.
Overwhelmingly, utilities still offer leak adjustments for both water and sewer. Similarly, a relatively small percentage don’t offer leak adjustments at all. One minor difference between the two sets of results is an increase in the number of utilities offering leak adjustments for water only and a corresponding decrease in adjustments for sewer only.
Have you completed the 2019 Utility Fee Survey?
If you haven’t yet completed the 2019 Utility Fee Survey, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete.
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.
Is your leak adjustment policy up-to-date?
If you’re wondering if your leak adjustment policy is appropriate for your utility, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how a business review could help you learn the answer.
Before we get to the topic of this post, the last Utility Information Pipeline included a poll asking how you handle temporarily inactive accounts. Here is a recap of the responses to the poll (clicking on the chart will open a larger graphic in a new window):
I was pleasantly surprised to see that a majority of the poll responses do charge temporarily inactive accounts, whether it’s continuing to bill them or by assessing a fee.
Google Maps error
I was involved in a sales presentation last week and had an interesting experience when I clicked on the Mapping link within Logics’ Utility Management software. I always set the service address of my demo account to the prospect’s office address so they recognize the map.
The pushpin for the address appeared in the correct place, but the Google Business icon for the utility office was on the house next door! I commented on this and the utility staff laughed and said, yes, customers often drive past their office and have to turn around next door.
I said “Let’s fix that.” and clicked on the “Report a map error” link in the lower right corner of the inset map (this link is called “Send feedback” if you are in native Google Maps). I was able to drag the icon to the correct building on the map and, within minutes, received an email from Google confirming my correction had been made.
Step-by-step instructions to correct a map error
Back in 2012, I wrote about updating your listing in Google Places (now called Google Business). In case your Google Map listing is misplaced, as was the case with Auburn Water System, here are the steps to correct it.
As you can see from the screen shot below, the pushpin was between two buildings rather than directly on the Auburn Water System office:
Click the “Send feedback” link in the lower right corner.
Select “Edit the map” from the Send feedback menu.
Click on the icon for the business you want to correct, in this case Auburn Water System.
Check “Marker is placed incorrectly on the map” beside Location on the Suggest an edit menu.
Drag the marker to the proper place on the map.
A message will pop up thanking you for improving Google Maps.
Once your edit has been approved, you will receive an email from Google Maps letting you know it was a success!
The end result is the pushpin is now directly on the Auburn Water System office building! I guess now I should do the same thing for Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative, who share the same building with Auburn Water System. (I’m unsure why they didn’t show on the “before” map…)
Last chance for the 2017 Utility Fee Survey
This is your last chance to participate in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey. The survey will be closing at the end of the day, June 30, so if you haven’t already done so, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete. For an idea of what to expect from the survey, here are the results of the 2015 Utility Fee Survey:
Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2017 Utility Fee Survey.
Reviewing your policies?
If you’re in the process of reviewing or updating your policies, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at email@example.com for more information about how a business review could help you review your entire office operation.
Surprisingly, half of the utilities who responded do not have a formal customer service policy. Of those that do, two thirds haven’t updated it in a long time, leaving just 17% who have a formal customer service policy and update it regularly.
Importance of a customer service policy
I’ve written previously about customer service policies, but have never written about why I believe it is important to have one.
Everyone knows the rules
A formal customer service policy sets forth your utility’s policies and procedures and lets customers know what is expected of them. It also provides guidelines for your employees to use when evaluating a customer’s situation.
Customers don’t like it (nor should they) when they perceive to be treated differently from other customers. Having a customer service policy insures all customers are treated fairly, including everything from how much of a security deposit they must pay to who is cut off for non-payment.
Having a customer service policy, and enforcing it for all customers, empowers your customer service staff to make routine policy decisions. No one likes to have their decisions overturned by their boss, especially if it appears to be an arbitrary or if favoritism is involved.
Employee morale improves when your staff knows they will be supported in enforcing your policies. Customer service representatives are empowered when they know management stands behind them and will treat all customers fairly.
Now that you have a better understanding about why having a customer service policy is important, the next issue will go into more detail about what should be included in your policy.
Do you need assistance developing a customer service policy?
The deceased customers poll had 16 responses and the loose coins poll had 22. Statistically speaking, neither of these are very large samples, but, across my readership, I would like to think they are a representative sample of small and mid-sized utilities.
The current subscriber count for the Utility Information Pipeline stands at 322 and, in a good week, about 40% percent of subscribers open any particular issue. So that means, for any given issue, I can expect my newsletter to reach about 125 subscribers. Add to that a few views of my blog from followers on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and the number of readers responding to either poll is still significantly below 20% of those it reaches.
Importance of a formal policy
I’ve written previously about the importance of having a formal customer service policy. With so few responses to the two polls indicating these topics are addressed in a formal policy, this leads to one of two conclusions: (a) these utilities don’t have formal policies or (b) these topics aren’t covered in their existing formal policies.
If your utility has never been confronted with a customer dumping a huge pile of change on the counter to pay a bill, I can understand if accepting loose coins isn’t dealt with in your policy. However, with the requirement for each utility to have a Red Flags Rule policy, not having a policy regarding deceased customers is more surprising.
Do you have a formal customer service policy?
Does your office have a formal customer service policy? Please take this quick poll.
Once you’ve taken the poll, you can see the results to see how other utilities responded. I’ll publish the final results in the next issue.
Do you need assistance developing or updating your policy?
If your office needs assistance developing or updating your customer service policy, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how a business review could help.
As you can see, most utilities still maintain a petty cash fund and, as I advised against, only one respondent reimburses petty cash from the daily cash drawer.
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?
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 on Wednesday, November 30 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
Kenny Waldroup, PE, Assistant Public Utilities Director, City of Raleigh
Matt Bernhardt, Director of Public Works and Utilities, City of Gastonia
For more information, or to register for the seminar, please click here.
Is your office prepared for staff turnover?
If your office is dealing with retirements, or other staff turnover, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at email@example.com for more information about how a business review could help you prepare for the transition.
I am the Senior Consultant with Edmunds GovTech | Logics 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 919-673-4050 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org