Proactive Customer Contact

Past-due bills, imminent cut-offs, boil notices, conservation messages, service outage notifications – these are just a few of the messages that you need to deliver to your customers every day. But many utilities are stuck using out-dated methods for delivering these messages; mailing letters, newspaper notices, and door-hangers. Many of these are never seen or ignored, which means additional work for your staff, reduced revenue for your utility, and frustration for your customers.

Better options exist; experience shows that simple telephone, sms/text and email reminder notifications can dramatically improve customer responsiveness. A courtesy message will often motivate someone to do business with water utility. Some utilities have seen their shut-offs due to non-payment fall by nearly 50% in just one year when they implement an automated reminder call program to their overdue accounts. Such a system requires virtually zero extra effort by utility staff and results in far fewer shut-offs, reduced costs and higher revenue collections.

Procrastination is a collection manager’s biggest obstacles, but automated reminder calls help to put utility business at the top of your customer's “to do” list. And the savings for your agency are often substantial, especially in light of budget and staffing pressures that are being felt in utilities across the country. A simple automated voice message is very effective in prompting customers to pay their bill, and it requires no additional effort by utility staff. These messages can help your utility cut its lock list immediately. Fewer shut-offs means less service trips and fuel use, which is a big help for utilities that are working to reach environmental goals. Automated past-due reminders can also help your utility go paperless, helping to save large amounts of paper, postage and man-power.

From a regulatory standpoint, most states stipulate that boil notices can be delivered by newspaper, television and radio. But are these old-fashioned mass media outlets the best way to serve your customers in critical situations? 36-48 hours is a long time for a potentially health-threatening message to be delivered. Automated messaging systems can deliver these messages in minutes and have the added benefit of providing an audit trail of which customers received the messages and which ones didn't.

Sophisticated systems can also integrate with your GIS, allowing messages to be targeted to specific customers based on their location. Combined with distribution network pipe diagrams, these systems can allow your staff to proactively notify customers before service events happen, eliminating the need for door-hangers and drastically reducing the number of irate in-bound calls from customers asking "what happened to my water?"

Does your software system analyze your meter data? Sophisticated analytic systems can "learn" each customer's normal water usage patterns and seasonal patterns for each category of user. Abnormal meter readings can then be identified as potential leaks and used to trigger automated alerts to your customers. Customer leaks often result in customer disputes and billing write-offs, so these alerts can improve customer satisfaction and reduce water losses. In similar fashion, meter analysis can also be used to drive personalized conservation messaging to your customers. Research shows that simply providing people with rich and contextual information can help "nudge" them towards conservation.

Automated outbound notifications are helping to shape a new wave of customer service orientation that uses technology to push valuable and timely information to customers. Proactive notifications drive action. They help utilities save money, reduce hiring needs, and deliver better service; simply put, they are smart business.