Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 1-800-259-7020
The saying goes "if something is not broke don't fix it," and it can be easy to associate that same mentality when it comes to your billing process. Relying on the “not broke yet” philosophy may prevent you from realizing the critical benefits of incremental improvements.
However, we want to let you know that it's okay to change a process that has always worked! Because sometimes, and usually this ends up being the case, there's a better way to execute on it that makes it easier on everyone.
When it comes to your organization's billing process it's easy to think that the way it currently runs is the ONLY way it can run. I mean, it's run just fine for your organization for years, right?
You may think that's right, but what about how it's run on your team? Just because you've found a good solution for your billing operation doesn't mean it's easy on your team, and a heavy workload burden could ultimately result in burnout and resignations if it eventually becomes too much.
Too many organizations have unfortunately learned that the adage "we've always done it that way" can become the most expensive way to learn costly lessons!
People can quickly become burnt out from hobbies they love and enjoy, sometimes causing long pauses of them not being able to pursue them for a while. Someone's job is no different! Instead of a pause in pursuing a hobby, they'll simply start to look for other work.
Now, we know you don't want that, and we don't want that for you, either! That's why we've researched and done some internal process searching to find the four best ways your organization can improve efficiency in your billing process to make it much more manageable.
Meter reads are one of the first components that occur in your billing process, and that's why we want to start there before we even get to creating the invoices and bills!
Your customers' meter reads to determine how much they need to be charged for usage on their utility bills, which is majorly important for any municipality organization. However, for each location with a large customer base, this can quickly become a lot of data to store at once.
That's why we recommend introducing color-coded organization when it comes to your meter read data!
We've found that when you're looking at line after line of similar text and data, it can become easy to gradually blur the definition between what data goes to what contact line.
It's even been proven that staring at a computer screen for a long time can cause digital eye strain resulting in blurry vision.
To help reduce this digital strain and decrease the time you have to sift through collected meter reads, we suggest implementing a color-coded system for variances.
Variances such as higher reads, irrigation, seasonal management, and more can all be designated a specific color to make it easier to recognize when specific business rules need to be applied to each meter read, depending on which variance is applied.
A system of colors known as Key Performance Indicator (KPI) threshold color codes are the industry standard. These colors include red, green, and yellow and help to identify variances within and outside established thresholds!
For example, let's say you have some customers whose meter reads are exceptionally higher than they usually are. Without having to go through all your data to determine which customers have these higher reads; you can easily signify through which rows or columns have the designated color for higher reads.
You can also use an algorithm to color code groups automatically and exceptions for your meter reads to make this process even easier!
By increasing efficiency in this portion of your billing process, you can also introduce an excel calculator to help with meter read data.
Have you ever found that your team has had to account for and handle some usages outside of the standard recording period? Maybe instead of reading for the designated 30-day period, you’ve had to read for 32 days?
It’s not uncommon for a read period to vary by one or two days every month, which means an adjustment like this to your recording period data will need to be adjusted each month.
Someone from your team will have to manually calculate the difference for those two days to ensure the bill is correct before sending it out to the customer. Maybe you don’t think this process is that difficult, but if you have to do it for hundreds of customers, it can easily consume your time.
With the introduction of an excel calculator, you can produce a one-time formula table that will work for any customer who falls outside the standard average reading period, whether two days or 20 days.
Or, if your provider has the processing and system capabilities, their software may just have the right program to do this within their system.
This helps reduce unnecessary calculating time for your team and creates efficiency in your billing process. We recommend getting up with your provider first to see how their system can help combat these consistently changing recording periods before implementing your own excel calculator!
Service orders are another early step in the billing process that may seem like nothing on your organization’s end can be done to create efficiency, but what if we told you that wasn’t the case?
You see, service orders work in a cross-functional workflow where contributing activities, in support of completing the lifecycle of a service order, an issue is identified within a serviced location in a structured, sequenced workflow.
This issue is then processed by the municipality organization, which they submit as a service order. The order is then dropped into this general funnel, placed into a queue, and then waits for a maintenance worker to pick it up.
Once a maintenance worker picks up the service order, there truly isn’t anything nothing on your organization's side of things to further increase efficiency. However, before that, we've identified an easy way to reduce long processing times significantly.
Instead of dropping your service orders into a general funnel of maintenance workers, we recommend sending them through a shared queue!
Sending specific individual emails to maintenance workers can quickly become problematic. Logging work orders in an ITSM-type system helps to measure the job queue!
Through the use of their tablets or mobile devices, your team can send service orders directly to a shared queue using technology, such as a KANBAN board, where service tickets can be assigned based on availability, which can reduce order pile-up and help to distribute them to other maintenance workers in your network evenly.
Your customers can receive notices for a wide variety of options. Some may need them for upcoming payments, some may need them for late fees, and some areas may need them for potential emergencies such as power outages.
Whatever it is, notices are important to your customers, which means it matters how and when you get to them!
Currently, mailed many organizations utilize physical mail notices, like the USPS or even door hangers in smaller communities, to alert their customers of various things. However, we've found that in current times this option just isn't that efficient anymore.
For one thing, if there's an emergency, you’ll want to notify your customers as soon as possible and not 3-5 business days after the fact.
More modern options such as SMS, phone calls, and emails have instantaneous delivery times that ensure that your customers receive notices of all kinds, even reducing the need to mail separate pieces.
And let's say that the introduction of digital notices has been received very nicely by your customers. Then that may mean it's also the opportune time to introduce more digital bills with them!
Digital bills have all the same cost-saving and delivery benefits as notices, but additionally, this can potentially help to reduce late payments from your customers too.
By allowing customers to pay online through an online customer portal, your team doesn't have to wait for checks or cash to be mailed to your organization, then mailed to your bank, to then be processed through the bank, and finally be applied to your account.
Digital bills also allow customers to more accessibly pay their bills. On top of that, digital bills increase the available payment options by making credit cards, ACH, and other digital options a choice for your customers to use.
Plus, with how the current USPS rates are trending, it looks like the increased mailing rates will only continue to go up over time.
It's common for municipalities to only accept cash or checks when it comes to customers paying their bills. Sometimes in-house credit card payments, utilizing a provided credit card reader, are also included in this mix too.
However, piggybacking off of the introduction of digital bills, going hand-in-hand with this recommendation, is the suggestion to increase your organization's accepted payment options!
Options such as IVR, online credit card payments, setting up autopay, and having a credit card reader in-house (if you don't already) are great ways to increase payment accessibility to your customers while simultaneously making your billing process easier.
When your organization doesn’t have the necessary procedure in place to ensure that all of your available payment options hold the same amount of efficiency, then you open up the chance for late payments. Specifically, with younger generations, it's not uncommon for them to not carry physical payments on them like cash
Research from SWNS Digital has shown that 1 in 4 Americans rarely carry cash at all anymore, and millennials are driving the trend.
By introducing digital payment options, you reduce processing and delivery times on your end, which increases efficiency in your billing process. Plus, you get the added benefit of making payments more accessible to your customers!
Your team does NOT have to feel overwhelmed when it comes to your billing process. One of the biggest burdens when it comes to processing bills is managing functions such as the payments or a lockbox and even the follow-up process when there is a need for payment from your customer.
Thankfully, there are several ways to reduce additional work, time, and money throughout these processes.
Maybe you're already utilizing some of these suggestions, but for the ones you aren't, why not give them a try?
Between better organizational practices for your meter reads, direct execution for your service orders, more immediate notices for your customers, and better accessible digital payment options, the opportunities are bountiful for creating efficiency and saving money.
So, if you find any of these works, then that's great! That just means that you've made your billing process easier, and your team will see the effort you've made to help reduce their workload.