As 2017 winds to a close, let me be one of the first to wish you and yours a Happy New Year for 2018!
This issue marks the seventh anniversary of the Utility Information Pipeline! About seven and a half years ago I had the crazy idea of writing a newsletter to share some of my collected wisdom and experiences from my then nearly 30 years of working with utility business offices.
With encouragement from co-workers and, most importantly, my wife, the Utility Information Pipeline was launched. Here we are, seven years and 171 issues later!
When I first started, I had a ready supply of ideas to write about. Now, seven years later, I’ve used all those ideas (and more!) and have to work a little harder to find inspiration. Some weeks, a conversation with a customer or prospect or a recent listserv post will serve as the source of that week’s newsletter. Other weeks, I have to dig a little deeper. So, if you have ideas or suggestions for a future topic, please feel free to email me.
If you have co-workers or colleagues from other utilities who you feel would benefit from reading this newsletter, please take a minute and forward this to them and encourage them to subscribe.
Looking back on 2017
Listed below are the top five most frequently viewed blog posts in 2017, based on page views:
- How much is your late fee?
- What are these barcodes on my bills?
- Do you have a cash handling policy?
- What is your leak adjustment policy?
- Intelligent Mail barcodes – are you ready…?
The top five posts from 2017 include:
- Invitation to participate in 2017 Utility Fee Survey
- Have you considered a third party convenience fee?
- 5 easy ways to get more bank draft customers
- What should your customer service policy include?
- 2017 Utility Fee Survey Results – Part III
Looking ahead to 2018
The coming year will bring about the second bi-annual Utility Staffing Survey. The Utility Staffing Survey, like the Utility Fee Survey in odd number years, will become a regular feature in even numbered years.
As time permits, I continue to update my personal website – www. garysandersonline.com. I’m hoping to unveil some new tools for utilities there this year, as well.
As always, If you have ideas or suggestions for a newsletter topic, please feel free to email me.
Is this a good time to consider a business review?
The dead of winter is sometimes the best time to conduct a business review, when things tend to slow down some. If you’ve been considering a business review as an internal check-up, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at email@example.com to discuss a time that’s convenient for you.
© 2017 Gary Sanders
From time to time, I get questions about how the ZIP+4 and DPC (Delivery Point Code, previously known as Delivery Point Barcode, or DPBC) are assigned.
A previous Utility Information Pipeline addressed (no pun intended!) mailing address quality. That issue described how to look up a ZIP+4 and the corresponding Delivery Point Code, but it didn’t describe them. An earlier issue explaining Intelligent Mail Barcodes touched briefly on how they are assigned, but didn’t go into great detail.
What does a ZIP+4 represent?
Here is an illustration using a map of a random street in Raleigh (chosen simply because it is laid out in a traditional block, not with curved streets and cul-de-sacs, like many neighborhoods):
Frank Street is in Raleigh ZIP code 27604.
For residential addresses, the ZIP+4 represents the odd or even side of a block. In this example, the ZIP+4 is 27604-2017 for odd side of the 500 block of Frank Street and 27604-2018 for the even side of the block.
What does the DPC represent?
As you can see from the map, mail sorted to the ZIP+4 includes multiple addresses. For example 27604-2017 includes the odd numbered addresses from 501 Frank Street through 511 Frank Street.
To improve upon this, the US Postal Service introduced the DPC which, when appended to the ZIP+4, creates a unique 11 digit number for every residential address. The DPC is the last two digits of the street number (or the post office box for PO Box addresses). Thus, 501 Frank Street becomes 27604-2017-01 and 503 Frank Street becomes 27604-2017-03, creating a unique numbering scheme for every address.
I’ve actually done a data matching project for a customer using this. We linked county tax information to their utility billing database using the 11 digit ZIP+4 and DPC as the initial link between addresses in the disparate systems.
How good is your address quality?
If your address quality needs to be improved, 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.
© 2017 Gary Sanders
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?
Here’s your chance to find out…
Confirming my suspicions
In a recent business review I completed for a customer, I suspected their office was understaffed. In order to determine if my suspicions were correct, I e-mailed 30 of Logics’ largest customers and asked a handful of questions about staffing.
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.
To accomplish this, 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 to other utilities.
In the past, I’ve written about valuable resources for utilities. One of these is the Environmental Finance Center at UNC. The Environmental Finance Center recently developed a new Financial Health Checkup for Water Utilities Tool. This free tool is designed to help assess the financial performance of your water and/or wastewater utility.
I’ve mentioned SmallWaterSupply.org newsletter in the past as a resource for small water utilities. They are still providing the same great information, but they’ve changed their name to the easier to remember WaterOperator.org. You can read more about the name change here.
Could your office be more efficient?
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 email@example.com to learn how a business review could help your utility.
© 2016 Gary Sanders
This issue marks the fifth anniversary of the Utility Information Pipeline! About five and a half years ago I had a “what if…” idea. What if I took my accumulated experiences and wrote about them in a newsletter? Would people be interested? How long could I sustain it? Well, the answers to those questions are “yes” and “five years and counting” thanks to you, my readers!
Subscribers continue to increase, by 10% again this year. If you have co-workers or colleagues from other utilities who you feel would benefit from reading this newsletter, please take a minute and forward this to them and encourage them to subscribe.
In the coming year, I will be introducing a new feature called “Reader Spotlights”.
These will be opportunities to highlight Utility Information Pipeline readers and initiatives they have implemented as a result of something I’ve written here or presented at a speaking engagement.
If you have adopted new policies or streamlined procedures based on something you’ve read here, please let me know by calling 919-232-2320 or e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven’t checked out my blog recently, I encourage you to do so. I’ve recently updated the theme to give it a fresh look. If you view my blog from a smartphone or tablet, this new format should be very easy to read. Each Utility Information Pipeline newsletter article is also posted to my blog as an archive. So if you can’t find an old newsletter in your inbox that you wish you still had, try searching for it on my blog.
Additional rates dashboards
In the process of updating my blog, I realized the Environmental Finance Center at UNC has added several more rates dashboards since my original post in July of 2013. To see if there is a rates dashboard for your state, click here to see the updated original post.
Most popular blog posts
This year, late fees was the most popular blog post, edging out convenience fees, which was the top post for the previous three years. Here are the five most popular blog posts in terms of page views for 2015:
- How much is your late fee?
- Can we charge a convenience fee for credit card payments…?
- Do you have a cash handling policy?
- Utility Fee Survey Results – Part I
- Utility Fee Survey Results – Part II
As you might imagine, after five years, topics to write about aren’t as easy to come up with as they were when I first started! If you have a question, idea, or suggestion of a topic that you would like to learn more about, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
Happy New Year!
I wish you and yours all the best for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016!
© 2015 Gary Sanders
One of the many things I do in my job is work with new customers in converting their data to Logics’ Utilities Management System.
In the process of doing this, I see a wide range in the quality of mailing addresses – from excellent to not so good. Let’s take a look at some steps you can take to improve the quality of your mailing addresses.
Postal addressing standards call for no periods or commas in the address line. For example, P.O. BOX 123 should be PO BOX 123 and RALEIGH, NC should be RALEIGH NC.
Street name suffixes should always use standardized abbreviations. For example, RD in place of ROAD and ST for STREET.
Apartments and suites should always be listed at the end of the address. For example, 101-B MAIN ST should be 101 MAIN ST APT B.
The primary delivery address should always be immediately above the city, state and ZIP code. This is not an issue for most addresses, but can be in the case of long street names with a suite or apartment that won’t all fit on a single address line. In this case, the mailpiece should be addressed like this:
1234 VERY LONG STREET NAME
RALEIGH NC 27609
Looking up a ZIP code
Every address should have a ZIP code, preferably including ZIP+4. The US Postal Service website, www.usps.com, makes it easy to find a zip code. In the Quick Tools section at the top left of the home page, click Find a ZIP Code:
Enter the street address, city and state of the address you want the zip code for and click the Find button. This will display the address (in standardized format) with the ZIP code and ZIP+4. If you want additional address information, such as Carrier Route or Delivery Point Code (which is required for Intelligent Mail barcodes), click the Show Mailing Industry Details link:
The full mailing industry details screen is shown here:
Are you familiar with USPS Publication 28? If you’re not and you are in any way responsible for being sure your bills get delivered to your customers as efficiently as possible, I recommend reading it.
It’s available from the Postal Service website, either as a PDF document (be forewarned – it’s 210 pages) or as interactive web pages with an index.
One of the features of Publication 28 is Appendix C1 which lists the standard abbreviations for most street suffixes. This is helpful if you’re unsure how to properly abbreviate a street suffix. For example, I live on Scouting Trail and, for the first few years I lived here, I thought Trail was abbreviated TR, but it’s not. According to Appendix C1, it should be TRL.
CASS certification software
If you use CASS certification software or an outsource printer to print your bills, you probably don’t worry about the quality of how your addresses are entered because the CASS certification software will correct the addresses. However, I would caution against this because the better your addresses are going into the CASS certification process, the more accurate the output will be.
Questions about address quality?
If you have questions about address quality, or anything else related to printing utility bills, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2013 Gary Sanders
In a couple previous issues, I’ve written about postings on listservs I subscribe to. A subscriber recently asked me what listservs I subscribe to and this prompted me to think about resources for utility professionals.
A listserv is an electronic forum where questions are posed by e-mail. Each listserv subscriber receives an e-mail, either for each post or in a condensed digest. They can then respond and participate in the dialog by replying to the e-mail.
I subscribe to the NC Water Listserv and the NC Finance Listserv hosted by the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina.
Environmental Finance Centers
In case you’re not familiar with the Environmental Finance Centers, they are an EPA sponsored network of nine regional, university-based locations that provide solutions to help manage the cost of environmental protection. For water, sewer and stormwater utilities, this includes assistance with rate setting and financing options.
I’m most familiar with the Environmental Finance Center at UNC because of its proximity and I’ve participated in a number of their training sessions. If you’re not already familiar with the EFC in your region, I encourage you to research and see what it has to offer.
In addition to hosting listservs and providing technical assistance, the UNC EFC also provides a suite of tools, including a series of Rates Dashboards. These dashboards allow utilities to compare their rates and affordability with other utilities in the state.
Rates dashboards are available for the following states and Canada:
If you are located in one of these states or Canada, I encourage you to experiment with the dashboard and see how your utility compares to other utilities in your area.
What resources are most helpful for you?
As a utility professional, what resources have you found to be most helpful? Please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at email@example.com or post a comment below to let me know what resources you rely upon and I’ll share them in a future issue.
© 2013 Gary Sanders