This is the second of two consecutive posts reporting the results of the 2016 Utility Staffing Survey. 73 utilities, representing 20 states, ranging in size from 200 to 80,000 active accounts participated in the survey.

Last week’s issue summarized the demographics of the survey respondents as well as staffing levels and factors outside the control of the utilities. Today’s issue deals with practices each utility can control, such as payment processing and bill printing.

In addition to asking the number of office employees, how many active customers, what services each utility bills, and annual customer turnover, the survey also asked how each utility handles various labor-intensive processes.

Meter Reading Processing

Because this survey focused on office staffing, the meter reading question only distinguished between manually entering readings or importing them from some sort of automated reading process. The survey did not distinguish between whether the imported readings were from handhelds or an AMR or AMI system.

As expected, most utilities in the survey have automated their meter reading process, as only five of the responding utilities still enter meter readings. Somewhat surprisingly, two of these utilities were in the upper 50% of most efficiently staffed offices. The other three were all within the six least efficiently staffed offices, as represented by the graph below:

Bill Printing

Bill printing and the related tasks required for preparing bills for mailing – separating postcards or folding and inserting full page bills, sorting, and traying the mail – are very labor-intensive tasks.

Not surprisingly, the top six and 19 of the top 24 most efficiently staffed offices use an outsource printer to print their bills. On the other hand, only four of the 20 least efficiently staffed offices outsource their bill printing.

Mail Payment Processing

Mail payment processing is quite possibly the most labor-intensive process in most utility offices. For that reason, many utilities have sought to automate the processing of mail payments, either by scanning barcodes on the bill, or using a remittance processing system or a bank lockbox.

As anticipated, 27 of the 31 most efficient utilities automate the mail payment process in some way, while the bottom 10 and 20 of the 24 least efficient utilities manually enter mail payments.

Phone Credit Card Payments

The final area the survey asked about is phone credit card payments. This can be an extremely laborious process considering the customer service representative must look up the account, tell the customer how much is owed, take the credit card number and process the payment authorization and, finally, enter the payment in the system.

Somewhat surprisingly, 13 of the 26 most efficiently staffed offices have a person in the office take phone credit card payments.