MuniBilling would like to highlight our Managed Services Manager, Heather Hubbard, today 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 what challenges organizations currently face with their billing operations and the benefits of creating efficiency in their efforts to reduce waste.
Q: When it comes to an organization’s operational billing challenges, one of the most common topics we hear is a lack of resources and time. Do you find that assessment usually accurate with clients you’ve worked with?
Yes, absolutely accurate! So, because we work with Municipalities and with Multi-Family properties, we tend to have clients who have limited budgets.
For example, if the town council limits your budget, it could be coming down from the state, and then coming down to your town. Or, if you're a senior living complex, your budget is likely limited, so you can’t always hire the staff you need to conduct your billing on time, accurately, and efficiently.
Q: Why do organizations tend to be impacted by this lack of time and resources?
By those budget restraints, I mentioned prior. In an 8-hour workday, you can’t have some of your staff working 12 hours a day to accomplish tasks due to a lack of resources.
There are a lot of review processes when it comes to utility billing. You have to ensure you're not billing someone for thousands of gallons they didn't actually use.
Budget, staffing, and knowledge restraints impact your organizations and clients. If you have a staff turnover or new employees who come in without utility industry experience, they're already at a disadvantage by not having all of the knowledge needed to understand meter reads and accurate billing.
Q: How often do you find these employees don't necessarily have industry knowledge? Is it more often than not?
We see it both ways. With smaller municipalities or apartment complexes, sometimes the knowledge was historical with a prior manager. That means when a new person comes in, they may have a little knowledge, but not all of the fine details.
We also have seen clients with utility billing managers who have worked in the industry for 20+ years, so it can definitely vary per organization.
Q: Is there an easy first step an organization can take to help combat these challenges when trying to create efficiency?
The first step would be to assess your particular situation.
For example, look at your staff and recognize that you can hire three staff members, but you'd really like to have four. Identify your budget and analyze your current situation to look at products that can support you within your budget restraints.
Q: So, if you had to highlight some key benefits, what would you say the top 3 benefits are?
Number one would definitely be staying within budget and keeping those numbers low and effective.
The main reason I put the monetary component first, ahead of the second benefit, is that the bottom line is where your managers and leaders are looking.
Number two, which isn't any less important than number one, is the stress level of your staff. Look at how your team can manage their current operations or if they're one large ball of stress that needs a vacation in the middle of the work week.
There are a lot of specific tasks that need to be looked at. Did statements list correctly? Did the bills calculate correctly? You want your staff to be able to do their duties while keeping their sanity.
Number three would be efficiency. Once you streamline your operation, getting all your ducks in a row, you can work on your individual billing processes and how you can cut waste and refine them to create efficiency.
Q: Then what can organizations expect from a cost perspective if they streamline?
Oh, you can see tremendous benefits and costs. If you can streamline even just your processes, you may realize you may only need a part-time employee for certain tasks, which means a salary cost reduction.
It could be that you would love to hire another person, but their salary is much more annually than what a new software solution could be for you.
I mean, it could even mean assessing the smaller things, like if you really need information on the back of your billing statement. Can you reduce printing costs somehow? Can you change the front of a statement? Even the cost of postage, and the ever-increasing price of postage, could be a factor to consider cost-wise.
Any piece of that efficiency creation can help, and it doesn't have to be that you can knock down a large amount from your budget. Even those small amounts will add up!
Q: If someone were to take away anything from this interview, what would be the one thing you recommend?
Your time is never wasted when you analyze your processes and go through the steps to streamline.
That's always a good use of time and can harvest big benefits! Even if you're pointing out to your manager, "Hey, if I do this process this way, then it can save me thirty minutes." Or whether it's a big ask like pointing out a new software that could help to eliminate problems.
If your end goal is to help streamline and save time in your billing operation, then the time spent is well-spent.