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Larry Foster: Practical Insights for Optimizing Operational Transformation in the Utility Industry [Part Five]

Headshot of Larry Foster
Larry Foster: Practical Insights for Optimizing Operational Transformation in the Utility Industry [Part Five]

Leverage Lean Six Sigma principles to substantiate the ROI from a customer portal and mobile application transformation.

Larry Foster, President of MuniBilling, has been working with technology for over 25 years. He's experienced in different sectors of technology, from starting new projects to helping companies grow and overcome challenges.

With a focus on the software and utility industries, Larry is a leading expert specializing in the complete lifecycle management of advanced solutions. Under his leadership, MuniBilling ensures dedicated client success teams and an unwavering commitment to ongoing support and efficiency improvements in the dynamic utility and software landscapes.

Q: How does an organization decide which digital changes to focus on first?

An organization should use Lean Six Sigma principles to choose digital changes that will benefit customers, employees, shareholders, and taxpayers the most. Prioritize digital transformations that yield the utmost value.

There are many ways to improve utility services by cutting waste and making big changes. One of the best changes is using self-service automation. For example, a billing clerk usually helps hundreds or thousands of customers who can call or email at any time. If we use digital tools to reduce these unexpected interruptions, everyone benefits. Customers get quicker service, clerks have less stress, and the organization saves time and money.

When organizations invest in digital changes, they look for a return on investment (ROI) of more than 1 dollar for every dollar spent. This means they want to save money, work faster, or make more money from each dollar invested. Greater efficiencies, resulting in reduced Lead, Flow, and Cycle times, improve customer and employee satisfaction and reduce operational expenses. 

Q: Which digital change will improve efficiency and ROI the most?

Investing in self-service tools for operations will boost productivity the most. This reduces interruptions and saves time and money. The best idea is to create a customer portal and mobile app. These let customers get information and ask questions anytime without needing to contact a billing clerk directly.

Customer portals and their handheld mobile counterparts can be a remarkable efficiency enabler in the lifecycle of billing by allowing the billing team to communicate and manage transactions directly and asynchronously with customers. This speeds up payment processing and reduces the time needed to receive payments. This is a big candidate for a significant Return on Investment. Enabling asynchronous anytime/anywhere communication and managing payments shortens the timeframe to receive cash as all the back-and-forth is done inside the portal. 

Q: What other benefits do customer portals and mobile apps provide for billing operations?

Customer portals and mobile apps make billing more efficient by automating invoice distribution and payment processing. This means customers can view statements, ask questions, and make payments whenever they want. They can also choose how to receive invoices, whether by email or through the portal. This strategic approach minimizes reliance on traditional hardcopy invoices via USPS, promoting a streamlined and efficient workflow for customers and billing clerks.

Q: How do you measure the benefits of a customer portal or mobile app?

To measure the benefits, try breaking them down into four main categories: cost reduction, cash flow improvement, and increases in customer and employee satisfaction. It's easy to track financial changes. Organizations can use surveys on customer satisfaction and employee engagement to qualify and quantify insights into perceptions before and after the implementation. 

Q: How do the benefits of the customer portal or mobile app relate to each category?

Let me summarize a few everyday use cases of enabling self-service for utility customers, qualify their value, and correlate the derived benefits into the respective buckets. To measure these benefits, we calculate the time saved and the number of interactions avoided. Remember, each interruption can cost about fifteen to twenty-five minutes of productivity.

  • Delivering invoices via a customer’s preferred channel makes it more convenient for customers, improving customer satisfaction.
  • Electronic invoices also reduce the operational cost of printing and manual intervention.
  • Customers are more likely to resolve their utility bills sooner when receiving them via a preferred channel, accelerating cash flow.  
  • Customers can make full or partial payments directly to one or multiple accounts against their respective invoices. This will automate reconciliation and eliminate manual delays, problems, and costs, reducing flow time, cycle time, and operational expenses.
  • Another opportunity to improve cash flow is when customers are more likely to make payments when they can choose their preferred payment method – credit cards, debit cards, ACH, virtual cards, bank payments, etc.
  • The Customer Portal functions as a centralized hub for sharing documentation. This is especially useful when communicating changes, facilitating service requests, or resolving issues. 
  • On one side, customers can upload documentation to share with your team, and your team can publish documentation that customers can download, which will reduce operational costs and delays associated with sharing information via USPS or the overhead of composing emails.
  • The customer portal and mobile application can also be used to submit service requests and report incidents at their convenience. The service desk can communicate transaction updates through the customer portal, reducing delays, overhead, and costs associated with live interactions.
  • Customers can review the history of their bills and usage at their convenience, reducing the interruptions and operational costs associated with accommodating ad hoc inquiries.

Q: Can you provide any tools to consider when choosing a customer portal?

Here's a checklist of the top 10 capabilities organizations should consider when choosing a customer portal. These features will bring the most benefits to the organization.

  1. Easy access to important information in a user-friendly layout.
  2. Options for receiving bills through different channels like the portal, email, or mail.
  3. Ability to Analyze usage and historical bills.
  4. Ability to submit and review Service Requests and Incidents
  5. Multiple payment methods available, such as credit cards or ACH.
  6. Ability to make partial payments and pay multiple invoices.
  7. Option to schedule payments for convenience.
  8. File download and upload capabilities
  9. Access to contact information for customer support.
  10. A corresponding mobile application with the same user experience

Join Us For A Demo Today!


Larry Foster, dedicated President of MuniBilling, is committed to delivering cutting-edge Electronic Bill Payment and Presentment services tailored for utility billing. If you're interested in learning more about our product and services, sign up for a personalized demo of the MuniBilling system. 

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