utility information pipeline

Is there a payment generation gap…?

I was recently reading a blog post from a LinkedIn connection about how Gen Z Consumers Shop. I’m not really interested in how they shop, but I thought it might provide some insight into how they pay. Interestingly enough, embedded in that article was a link to another blog post about how different age groups prefer to pay. Now we’re on to something!

Coincidentally, if you’re as confused as I am about Gen X, Gen Y, Millennials, and Gen Z, here’s a great explanation. What will the next generation be called? Gen AA? That’s a little spreadsheet humor…

Relevance to your utility

What is the relevance of all this to a utility? I think it boils down to knowing your customer demographic. If you serve a primarily aging Baby Boomer customer base, you probably still see lots of check payments, so you might want to consider some type of remittance processing system.

Similarly, if your customers are more likely to have a landline phone than a computer at home, an IVR system may make more sense than online bill pay.

On the other hand, if your customer demographic is younger, you probably see more use of online payments, either initiated through your customer’s bank or from your website.

And, of course, you want to offer bank drafts for all age groups!

Consider your options

The point of all this is so you can keep in mind your customer base when deciding what payment options to offer. Even though you personally might never use a particular payment method, it doesn’t mean your customers won’t.

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.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@edmundsgovtech.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

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.

Connect on LinkedIn

In the opening paragraph I mentioned LinkedIn. If you’re on LinkedIn and we aren’t connected, please send me a connection request!

Unsure what payment methods you should offer?

If you’re wondering if your utility is offering the best possible payment options, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@edmundsgovtech.com for more information about how a business review could help you find out.

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© 2019 Gary Sanders

I should check back more frequently!

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):


Similar trend

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.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

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 gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help you learn the answer.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2019 Gary Sanders

Have you considered offering an incentive…?

Last week, I renegotiated my plan with my cell phone company. That’s always a tedious, time-consuming task, but my carrier does offer one nice feature.

The easiest way to pay

I’ve written before about why bank drafts are the easiest way to collect payments. And I’ve followed that up not once, but twice with advice for how to get more customers to sign up for bank drafts.

Which brings me to my recent experience with my cell phone carrier. They offer customers who sign up for autopay – their term for bank drafts – a $5.00 credit per line.

Why offer an incentive?

Clearly, this company has recognized that enticing their customers to sign up for bank drafts is in their best interest.

For every customer who pays by bank draft, that’s one less mail payment, or worse yet, walk-in payment your staff has to handle. If you use a lockbox to process mail payments, this saves the per transaction fee for each customer that switches from mailing a check to paying by bank draft.

As a for-profit company in a very competitive market, my cell phone carrier doesn’t charge a convenience fee for credit card payments. If they can entice customers who historically pay by credit card to switch to paying by bank draft, they save themselves the credit card fees for those customers.

What’s a reasonable incentive?

I realize that $5.00 a month is more than most utilities can afford as an incentive, but what is realistic? I know of utilities who have tried both of these options:

  • a one-time $5.00 credit
  • a $1.00 credit for the first year the customer is on bank drafts

Both of these seem reasonable and may be all it would take to encourage a customer to sign up for bank drafts.

Complete 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.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

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 a bank draft incentive a good idea for your utility?

If you’re wondering if offering an incentive for bank drafts would be in the best interest of your utility, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help you learn the answer.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2019 Gary Sanders

Invitation to participate in 2019 Utility Fee Survey

You’re invited to participate in the 2019 Utility Fee Survey. I’m researching what fees different utilities charge and how much they charge for each fee.

Previous Survey Results

I conducted similar surveys in 2012, 2015, and 2017. You can review the results of those surveys here:

The Utility Fee Survey is a biennial survey, alternating years with the Utility Staffing Survey.

The results of the survey will be published in a series of upcoming e-mail newsletters. To be sure you receive the results of the survey, if you haven’t already signed up for my free e-mail newsletter, please click here to subscribe.

Complete the 2019 Utility Fee Survey

If you would like to participate, please click here to complete the survey. It should take less than five minutes to complete.

If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com or call me at 919-232-2320.

I’m hoping for as much participation as possible in the survey, so please feel free to pass this on to your colleagues at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2019 Utility Fee Survey.

Is your fee schedule up-to-date?

If, after completing the 2019 Utility Fee Survey, you’re wondering if your fee schedule is up-to-date, please give me a call at 919-232-2320, or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com for more information about how a business review could help you prepare for the transition.

 

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© 2019 Gary Sanders

Data analysis and manipulation tools

A big part of my work, in addition to sales presentations and consulting, is data analysis and extraction. Data extraction often involves deciphering older, flat file databases. To accomplish this, I rely on several software tools to make my job easier. In today’s issue, I’ll share some of those tools with you.

TextPad

If you’re familiar with Notepad, the default Windows text editor, it can be frustrating to work with if you’re trying to manipulate or better understand text files. Looking at text files with long records, such as a meter reading interface file or outsource billing export file, can be frustrating with Notepad because it uses word wrap. With word wrap, trying to determine where one line ends and the next line starts can be difficult.

My personal favorite text editor is TextPad. TextPad offers several features not available in Notepad. In addition to not word wrapping, it also displays the line and column positions of where the cursor is located, which comes in very handy when trying to determine if data is in the correct position. The screenshot below shows the cursor is on line 65, column 648.

TextPad can also open files in binary mode, which shows each byte of data as the two-digit hexadecimal value. This is most valuable when trying to find binary or packed numeric data in a flat file. In the illustration below, 129906 is the current meter reading, but because it is stored as binary data, it’s not visible in the margin like the meter number (02779619) is.

Another TextPad feature I use frequently is Find in Files. This allows me to search all files, or a wildcard representation, for a particular value. I often use this when first trying to determine which files are important for a data conversion. If I know an account number, I can search all the data files to see which of those file contain the account number.

Excel

Let me start by saying Excel is a terrible tool to use to exchange data. Excel notoriously tries to convert everything it can to numeric data. This means leading zeros get dropped from fields where they are important (like the meter number in the illustration above). Also, long numeric fields often get converted to scientific notation.

However, that doesn’t mean Excel isn’t a valuable tool for data analysis, just don’t use it to exchange files!

One of the most obvious uses for Excel is to open delimited (tab, CSV, pipe) files. Excel arranges the data in columns, making it much easier to review than opening a delimited file in a text editor. Once data is in columns, it can easily be sorted and filtered. Filtering data is another feature I use frequently. If I’m working with a file that has a column of codes and I want to know how many unique codes are represented, Excel’s filter function is what I use. In the screenshot below, I have a column called Account Class. To determine what codes are represented in the Account Class column, all I had to do is turn on filtering and click the dropdown arrow for the Account Class column and it shows me the three unique values of C, M, and R:

CSVed

One last tool I use less frequently than the others, but still rely on, is CSVed. As the name implies, this is a CSV, or any delimited file, editor. Excel has a limit to how large a file it can open which can be frustrating with very large files. CSVed doesn’t have that limitation and it will also allow me to filter records to save a subset of a large file.

For example, If I’m trying to analyze a history file that has billing, payment, and adjustment records, CSVed provides the functionality to export just one of the record types, for example, adjustments. This provides a much more manageable file to analyze and open in Excel.

Need assistance extracting old data?

If you’re trying to extract data from an old database and need assistance, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how I could assist you.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter…

© 2019 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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