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Think about this for a moment. When do your customers interact with you the most? Would you say they contact you the most when they are looking to pay their bills? I can almost hear a resounding YES. A report from OPower concluded that almost 50% of customer calls to water utility companies are pertaining to billing issues/concerns. No wonder utility companies are busy looking for ways to improve billing and provide a better experience to their customers. Part of the process of improving the experience also means the ability to leverage technology to be able to make the day-to-day transactions easy, pleasant, and worthwhile. The other important consideration is to reduce leakages so that customers can save money, be judicious and help preserve the planet too. A two-fold strategy thus helps to provide a much better experience to customers while helping water utility companies conduct their businesses efficiently.
More often than not, billing is handled through manual processes, which means that bill creation, invoicing, payment and printing/mailing functions are handled separately by different teams. This leads to quite a lot of chaos to say the least, not just for the teams handling the functions but also for the customers themselves. The solution is simple – Automated billing functionality. This will ensure that both customers and water utility suppliers have a single view of data and are able to optimize the functions by bringing all the different sub-functions together in an integrated fashion. Late payment fees are a headache that no one wants. And this magically disappears thanks to automation. Self-service options can also be leveraged to improve billing, thereby reducing the overhead on companies to answer frequently asked questions by customers regarding their bills – payment due dates, penalties, late fee charges, rebates etc.
A good utility billing system should help work out complex rates and calculations to arrive at the correct pricing. When this is bolstered with a service level agreement, it provides a further layer of professionalism that everybody can adhere to. Now every company can come up with a standardized monthly bill, but your customers could suddenly want to get more details or look at patterns of their bill usage and payments over a period of time. This is where customized bill formats help. Such a system can also integrate with third-party printing and delivery vendors so that bills can reach customers in a safe, timely manner. Collection can be made seamless too, thanks to online bill payment and auto-pay features. Finally, would you like it when you forget to pay your bills (owing to unforeseen situation) and then end up ordering food only because of a sudden lack of water connection? Smart companies will ensure to make use of disconnection notices in such cases to not take the customers by surprise.
Water is an important resource and can soon become a rare commodity. In fact, the numbers speak for themselves. On an average, 10 gallons of water are lost owing to leaks per house per day in the US. With technology, companies can reduce leakages as customers can report water leakages and the teams can fix the issues in an efficient, streamlined manner. Now imagine a situation where a customer observes a leakage but waits for days to report the issue. Finally after getting a push from his family, he reports the issue only to wait for more days for the authorities to take some action. Enter technology and the situation sees a major fillip. The customer can simply log a request and get real-time updates regarding the waiting time, costs involved etc. through an integrated dashboard. The company can also serve the customer in a better manner instead of making him wait for days without any updates.
Go a step further and you will realize that the customer might not be expected to wait. A well-integrated, smart meter data management system should have been able to detect the issue or raise an alarm by simply collecting and analyzing the consumption data over a period of time. It could have clearly seen a spike and sent a notification to the customer who could have been pleasantly surprised while also getting a subtle nudge to take action (or report the leak). Digital meters and sensors make such detection very easy. Companies can also look at geographic information systems (GIS) to get a better idea of the usage across different locations in focus and route field crew for specific issue resolution. This could also help unearth issues surrounding water theft, improper metering and any specific connections which might be illegal.
As the number of customers at a water utility company increases, the role of technology gains greater prominence. Customer requests can be managed through a centralized dashboard, and you could also look to automate workflows and priority sequencing to serve customers in a better way. A holistic view of data for your staff, field crew as well as your customers will help keep everyone on the same page and reduce multiple calls and enquiries while giving sufficient peace of mind to all when it comes to real-time data, status updates, pending requests and more. You can also make use of smart alerts for specific handling of exceptions and corrections. So, if you have 5000 customers that you need to serve, you could delight them all while also helping them save more and contribute to a greener planet. If you are wondering how, we would be happy to help!