Water Online

MAR 2017

Water Innovations gives Water and Wastewater Engineers and end-users a venue to find project solutions and source valuable product information. We aim to educate the engineering and operations community on important issues and trends.

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By Peter Chawaga W ater utilities are in a tough spot. They're asked to provide a crucial service, one that can even be considered a miracle of modern engineering, and yet they are constantly struggling to collect payment for these services from those who benefit. WaterSmart Software wanted to help. The technology company provides engagement and analytical tools that utilities can use to communicate with ratepayers and stay on top of payments. It recently hosted a "WaterSide Chat" webinar to provide utilities with best practices they can employ to improve collection performance. "As you go through, think [to] yourself, 'Am I penny-wise and pound-foolish by not investing in my collection process or finding out why my collection process is not as effective as I want it to be?'" Tom Hulsebosch, the presenter and a senior manager with West Monroe Partners, a business and technology consulting firm, told attendees. "We've seen collection issues upwards of 10 percent at some utilities. That's a lot of revenue that can pay for a lot of staffing." From there, Hulsebosch moved on to enumerate the six primary ways that utilities can improve their collection processes and hopefully put more revenue toward the vital work that they do. 1. Collect And Maintain Customer Data A natural first step for improving collections is to know who you are collecting from. "One of the key things … is making sure that you've got your customers uniquely identified," Hulsebosch said. "Not the brother of someone, but your actual customer identified, and that you can actually do a credit check on." When customer service agents act as the go-between for utilities and ratepayers, it's important to make sure they are on the same page when it comes to collecting payment. "We're always incentivizing our customer agents for something," Hulsebosch said. "What you want to make sure you're not doing is accidently incentivizing them to help the client find a way around paying the bill on time. Helping them to find ways to resolve past payments, as well as old debts, is really important." Lastly, Hulsebosch stressed the importance of keeping utility systems in sync and making sure all the data points they are collecting align. "This is a really tricky one, and it gets trickier as we add more technology to our water network," he said. 2. Utilize Premises-Based Billing It sounds simple, but it's critical to ensure that the person who owns a property is the one who is accountable for its water bill. "We see a very big difference between water utilities that practice premises-based billing and those that do not," Hulsebosch said. "[Utilities that do not are] trying to go after, if you will, the renter or the tenant, as opposed to the building owner. Those that have this concept of premises-based billing, where in the end the owner of the building is primarily accountable for the bill, well, it turns out they really don't have a problem. This can go from one of your biggest headaches to not so big a headache." 3. Employ Customized, Risk-Based Processes Some innovative utilities employ customized processing that segments customers and improves collections, according to Hulsebosch. "I like the idea of segmenting your customers, looking at the potential impact of taking that deposit or not taking that deposit, especially for low-risk customers, and then making the determination of whether that's really an effective way to get people to pay their bill," he said. Hulsebosch also encouraged attendees to consider rethinking how they approach customers who have missed a payment. "Do you go after them too aggressively when they miss a bill payment, or do you send them a nice, friendly reminder?" he asked. "I would recommend the friendly reminder." 4. Keep Customers Satisfied Hulsebosch cited a poll he conducted on behalf of a utility, in which he found that the correlation between customer satisfaction and how easy it was to complete a payment was nearly one to one. He found that if customers are satisfied, they will more readily make payments, even in the face of higher costs. "Regardless of the type of service or transaction, we saw that if it 14 wateronline.com n Water Innovations 6 Ways To Improve Payment Performance With rising regulatory and infrastructure costs, it's more important than ever for water and wastewater utilities to collect what they're owed from ratepayers. But how can they go about improving collection? Am I penny-wise and pound-foolish by not investing in my collection process or finding out why my collection process is not as effective as I want it to be?

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