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Gary Sanders: '22 Utility Staffing Survey Reveals Fascinating Insights

A profile picture of Gary Sanders, seasoned expert of utility billing.

Utility industry expert Gary Sanders has partnered together with MuniBilling to help give readers an in-depth look into the world of Utility Billing Systems.

For today's Ask The Expert blog, we'll focus on Gary's findings from his bi-annual 2022 Utility Staffing survey. 


Q: You recently completed your bi-annual survey of Utility Industry experts centered around staffing and support. How did the Utility Staffing Survey come to be?


A: Several years ago, I was conducting a business review for a customer. This customer had a vacancy in their business office and the office manager felt strongly that they were understaffed and needed to fill the position and asked me to address this in my report.

I worked for a software company at the time, so I reached out to our 30 largest customers, of which this utility was one, to ask three questions:

  1. How large is your business office staff?
  2. How many customers do you bill?
  3. How frequently do you bill each customer? 

From this, I calculated a value I called Annual Accounts Billed per Office Employee. I did this by multiplying the number of customers by how many times per year each customer was billed, then dividing that result by the number of employees in the business office.

It turned out this utility was indeed understaffed as compared to their peer utilities.


I was already conducting the Utility Fee Survey every other year in odd-numbered years, so in 2016 I decided to also conduct a Utility Staffing Survey every other year in the intervening years. The 2022 Utility Staffing Survey is the fourth biennial staffing survey I’ve conducted.



Q: Can you briefly explain the survey methodology and with whom you collected information?


A:In conducting the Utility Staffing Survey, I expanded the questions beyond the original three questions by also asking what major services were billed and how automated certain labor-intensive tasks – meter reading, bill printing, mail payment processing, phone credit card payments, and service order processing – were accomplished.


I published the survey in my bi-weekly email newsletter and posted in on the listservs I subscribe to as well as sending invitations to people who had attended my presentations at Rural Water and AWWA conferences.



Q: What was your most surprising result from the feedback you received?


A: I think my biggest surprise is that, for four surveys over the course of six years, outsource bill printing has remained essentially unchanged. It actually decreased by three percentage points (59% to 56%) in 2022 from the original Utility Staffing Survey in 2016.

With as difficult as the Postal Service has become to deal with and with outsource printing a much more economical option than it once was, I would think more utilities would be taking advantage of outsourcing the printing of their bills.



Q: What trends are you seeing in the response data that utility organizations should start looking out for?


A: Clearly, AMI is becoming more popular as a meter reading option. In 2018 (the 2016 survey didn’t ask how meters were read, only if reading were keyed or not) 7% of utilities responding to the survey were using AMI. This increased to 17% in 2022.

Another trend I’m seeing is moving away from having a person take phone credit card payments in the office to using an IVR system. IVR credit card payments have increased from 25% in 2016 to 38% in 2022.

This comes as no surprise considering how time-consuming taking credit card payments over the phone is. And IVR systems are available 24/7, not just when the utility office is open.



Q: How should utilities begin to look at staffing for the foreseeable future?

We’ve all read and heard the horror stories about how difficult it is to find good employees, so anything a utility can do to eliminate manual tasks is a great idea.

As I mentioned previously, both the bill printing and mailing process and IVR phone credit card payments are two relatively easy tasks to transition from in-house to outsourced processes.


Q: What benefits and upsides exist for organizations to outsource staffing, and how should they choose what activities to outsource? 

The biggest upside to outsourcing labor-intensive processes is it allows staff to “work smarter, not harder” by eliminating tedious functions and freeing them up to handle other tasks, like answering customer questions or follow up on past due bills.


Operational Analysis

Gary's 40+ years of experience in the industry has granted him valuable knowledge for any billing entity. With the wealth of his knowledge, you can request an Operational Analysis for your organization from him!

You may be wondering, what exactly is an Operational Analysis? Well, it essentially is when Gary looks through ALL of your systems and interviews your team to figure out how best you can improve your billing operations.

Here are a few of your organization's systems that Gary will assess:

  • Billing System
  • Accounting System
  • Metering System
  • Service Delivery System

The end goal of this analysis is to figure out how to save your organization time and money best. This could also mean suggesting another company's platform if it's the better fit for YOU.

Gary has hosted his own blog for the past ten years. Some of his more notable credentials is that he has designed, built, implemented, and supported both ERPs and Utility Billing systems. Thankfully, he's only a hop, skip, and jump away.

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