If you remember, the total days of exposure is comprised of six different components:
Days between meter readings
Days until bills are mailed
Days until due date
Days until bills are delinquent
Days until final notice is mailed
Days until cut-off
One of the areas you have the most control over is how many days elapse between reading meters and mailing bills.
An actual scenario
Recently, while visiting with a customer, I asked the manager how long it takes them after reading meters to review the meter readings, calculate bills and send the bill file to the outsource printer.
The answer, which took me totally by surprise, was three weeks. When I questioned this, the response was the billing staff says that’s how long it takes. I didn’t press the issue, although I strongly suspected this may be a case of the TTWWADI syndrome.
The conversation continued on to how a particular customer’s misread meter was handled. The manager went to get the paperwork for the specific case in question and it turns out two full weeks had passed between the date the meter reading edit list was printed and when the field technician reread the meter.
How long does it take you?
I can think of no good reason why it should take two full weeks to get a reread returned to the office.
How long does it take your office between reading meters and mailing bills? Please take a moment to take this quick poll and I’ll publish the results in the next issue.
Is your office guilty of this?
The billing clerks for this customer are new hires since the system was installed and could probably benefit from followup training. I wasn’t even conducting a business review and this customer benefited from free consulting. Just imagine what a complete business review might discover!
If you think the way you process rereads (or do anything else in your office, for that matter) takes longer than it should, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how a business review could help your utility.
One of the reasons this post is in the top five may be people typing “funnel effect” into a search engine and finding this image. A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, and this one definitely is!
I believe it is important for new hires to get off to a great start. Getting good training is a key to insuring that good start. Who better to train your new hires in the use of your billing software than your vendor’s trainers?
Not just new hires
In nearly 35 years of working in this field, I’ve found that software users generally fall into one of two categories:
Those who venture only where they’ve been taught to go
Those who will try everything and go everywhere
Even as adventuresome users who fall into the second category, many of us are creatures of habit. We become comfortable with a certain way of doing things and fall into predictable patterns. Remember the TTWWADI syndrome post from six weeks ago?
I’m often surprised when I visit customers and realize some of the things they aren’t doing that they could be with our software. More surprising, are some of the things they do as workarounds that they could be doing with the software.
Is it time for a business review?
If you’re satisfied with your billing software and it’s been a couple years since you’ve received training or had someone from your software vendor review your operation, maybe it’s time for a business review.
If you’re not satisfied with your current software, then it’s definitely time for a business review. Taking the time to conduct a business review before starting the search for new software can help facilitate the replacement process.
Is your office operating as efficiently as it could be?
Are you taking advantage of all the features of your software? Could your business office operate more efficiently? If you’re not sure, 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.
In previous issues of the Utility Information Pipeline, I’ve made mention of conducting a business review. Let’s take a look at what an outside business review entails and some reasons why you might consider conducting one.
Why should you consider an outside business review?
Does conducting an outside business review mean that your business office isn’t well run? Not at all!
A business review is not unlike a financial audit – just because you conduct an annual audit doesn’t mean there’s any monkey business going on with your books, it just insures that things are being done right. In the same manner, conducting a business review is a way for management and your board to insure that your business office is functioning efficiently.
In general, utilities fall into one of two categories – those that are satisfied with their billing software and those that aren’t (or aren’t sure if they should be).
If you are satisfied with your billing software
If you are satisfied with your billing software, contact your software vendor to see if they have a consultant who is qualified to conduct a business review. Are there benefits if person conducting the review is affiliated with your software provider? I would argue “yes” – there are many things about your software that an outside consultant wouldn’t have intimate knowledge of. Some items to consider are:
Are you running the latest version of your software?
Are you taking advantage of all the features the software offers?
How long has it been since your staff has been trained by your vendor?
Software vendors publish updates and fix bugs in their software periodically, but not all businesses (not just utilities!) choose to install the latest update. Is it possible that something you have devised as a manual workaround to solve a problem has been fixed in a newer release of your billing software?
New software releases are often accompanied by release notes describing the bugs that were fixed and the new features were added in that release. Even if you have installed all the new updates as they became available, it’s very possible you overlooked a new feature described in the release notes that could save your office staff time and effort.
How long has it been since your staff has received training from your vendor? Utility Information Pipeline #14 addressed training new hires (you can read it here if you missed it) and what I call the “funnel effect”. If you have hired new staff since you installed your system, investing in some training is well worth it. Even if your current staff was all trained by your software vendor when the system was installed, refresher training is always helpful. Initial training tends to be focused on day-in, day-out processes and doesn’t always address other, more advanced features of the software.
If you’re unsure or not satisfied with your billing software
If you’re unsure if your billing software is doing all that it should for you, an outside business review provides an opportunity to learn how well it is meeting your needs.
If you aren’t satisfied that your current billing software can accomplish all that you want to do or that it doesn’t provide some of the latest features, conducting a business review can help make the business case to replace your software.
As a manager or office manager that has to convince a reluctant board that spending the money for new software is really worth the investment, an independent business review can be a great tool in helping make your case.
If you are a board member and you want to insure that your office is being run as efficiently as possible, what better way than to commission an independent, outside business review?
What should an outside business review include?
A quality business review should be performed by a qualified consultant with knowledge of utility billing best practices and current trends in the industry. The consultant should thoroughly review the utility’s current business processes, office practices and utility policies and procedures. The outcome of the business review should include recommendations as to how the utility can improve customer service and achieve better efficiencies.
Why not conduct a business review internally?
Human beings, by our very nature, are creatures of habit. When we become accustomed to doing things a certain way, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that other options exist. Conducting a review internally is often done from the perspective of how things have always been done, without benefit of seeing the bigger picture or realizing that other options exist. An outside consultant has experience with many other utilities and brings that perspective and knowledge to the table when conducting a business review.
Conducting an outside business review provides the utility with an unbiased, objective opinion from an independent source. Conducting an internal review is often done, unfortunately, from the perspective of preserving the status quo rather than recommending changes when change is merited.
There are no political implications of unpopular recommendations from an outside consultant. Perhaps, as a manager, you’ve tried unsuccessfully to get your board to change a policy or fee you know needs to be changed. Bringing the issue up again could land you in political hot water, but having an outside consultant make the same recommendation won’t get you fired. It may, however, get the consultant fired, but that’s the nature of what we do!
If you have any questions about conducting a business review or would like to learn more about what a business review entails, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re paying close attention, you’ve realized it has only been one week since you received the last Utility Information Pipeline. I’m making an exception this week so that I can let you know about an upcoming seminar that I’m excited to be a part of. Other than listing my upcoming speaking engagements in the sidebar to the right, I haven’t previously publicized any of them individually.
Several staff members from the Environmental Finance Center will present various sessions on designing and setting rates and the relationship between rates and customer usage. The EFC’s Rates Dashboard will also be highlighted in one of the sessions. I’m proud to have been invited to present my Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities presentation as part of the course.
In a meeting with a new customer recently, I was asked my opinion if they should train a new employee in-house or send the new hire to our training facility at Logics to be trained. Without hesitation, I recommended they send the new hire to our training facility.
Let’s take a look at why having your software vendor train new hires is a better value than having a current employee train the new hire…
The Funnel Effect
The Funnel Effect is an analogy I use when describing training employees in the use of a new software application. Here is an illustration of the Funnel Effect…
Let’s examine each of the various levels of knowledge in the funnel…
Complete knowledge of a software application
The full knowledge of any software product, especially complex utility billing systems, is vast and requires spending considerable time learning the application. The top level of the funnel illustrates this full knowledge of the system.
Knowledge level of initially trained employee
Even the most eager and attentive employees won’t retain everything they are taught during training. Initial user training generally focuses on the fundamental processes required to accomplish the basic functions in a software application. For example, with word processing software this training would focus on typing, formatting and printing a document. In the utility billing world this training would focus on updating accounts, entering meter readings, calculating and printing bills and posting payments.
In a study titled “An investigation of training activities and transfer of training in organizations” published by Alan M. Saks and Monica Belcourt in the Winter 2006 issue of Human Resource Management, the authors report that 62% of employees apply training on the job immediately, 44% after six months and 34% after one year. As you can see, even immediately after training, the knowledge level of an initially trained employee is going to be considerably less than the full knowledge of the system.
Knowledge level of new hire trained by initially trained employee
Going live with new software is often a chaotic experience and, especially while paralleling systems, the knowledge that is reinforced through daily activities is generally the basic function of the system. While some employees will take advantage of opportunities to learn more about the system, others will be content to learn only what is required to accomplish the day-in, day-out requirements of their job.
Given the statistics in the previous section, an employee who is trained by a newly trained employee can be expected to retain only 38% (62% x 62%) of the full knowledge of the system. If the new hire is being trained a year after the initial employee was trained, the retention rate drops to 21% (34% x 62%)!
Knowledge level of second new hire trained by first new hire
As you can see from the previous section, with every employee that is trained by another employee, there is a resulting loss of knowledge of the system. By applying the statistics above to one more new hire, the best case scenario is a retention level of 24% (62% x 62% x 62%). In reality, the second new hire most likely isn’t going to be trained immediately after the first new hire. If the training of each new hire takes place a year after the previous employee was trained, the retention level drops to 7% (34% x 34% x 62%)!
Who would you want training your new hires…?
While we’re talking about training, what about your current employees?
One of the types of training that we at Logics recommend for our customers is refresher training. Refresher training provides an opportunity for employees who are familiar with the daily operation of the system to review what they initially learned, hopefully being reminded of some features that they had forgotten about. It also provides the opportunity to learn more about the management and reporting capabilities of the system.
I highly recommend refresher training. If you are a Logics customer, give your Account Manager a call to learn more about refresher training. Even if your software vendor isn’t Logics, I encourage you to contact them to see what additional training opportunities are available.
If you have any questions about new hire training or refresher training, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at email@example.com.
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