This is the second of two consecutive blog posts reporting the results of the 2018 Utility Staffing Survey. 82 utilities, representing 20 states, ranging in size from 134 to 90,000 active accounts participated in the survey.

The last 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

In terms of office staffing, the real distinction in time savings in only between manually entering readings or importing them from some sort of automated reading process. However, unlike two years ago, this year’s survey did 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. However, this year’s survey included 16 utilities that still enter meter readings, up from only five two years ago. Surprisingly, three of these utilities were in the upper 50% of most efficiently staffed offices. The others were all within the bottom third of least efficiently staffed offices, as represented by the graph below (clicking on any of the graphs will open a larger image in a new window).

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 three and 28 of the top 32 most efficiently staffed offices use an outsource printer to print their bills. On the other hand, only four of the 15 least efficiently staffed offices outsource their billing 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, 14 of the 15 most efficient utilities automate the mail payment process in some way, while 16 of the 21 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, 5 of the 19 most efficiently staffed offices have a person in the office take phone credit card payments.