This is the second of two consecutive blog issues reporting the results of the 2020 Utility Staffing Survey. 116 utilities, representing 20 states, ranging in size from 232 to 285,000 active accounts participated in the survey. This is the third biennial Utility Staffing Survey and the results of the previous surveys can be viewed here:

The last issue summarized the demographics of the survey respondents as well as staffing levels and factors outside the control of the utilities. It also introduced the concept of using a value called Annual Accounts Billed per Office Employee to compare the staffing efficiency of different utilities.

In addition to asking a series of demographic questions – 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. Today’s issue deals with practices each utility can control, such as payment processing and bill printing.

Meter reading processing

In terms of office staffing, the real distinction in time savings with meter readings is only between manually entering readings or importing them from some sort of automated reading process. However, like two years ago, this year’s survey again distinguished between whether the imported readings were from handhelds, another utility, 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 13 utilities that still enter meter readings, down from 16 two years ago. Surprisingly, six of these utilities were in the upper 50% of most efficiently staffed offices, and one is in the top four! The others were all within the bottom half 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 11 and 39 of the top 43 most efficiently staffed offices use an outsource printer to print their bills. On the other hand, only two of the 18 least efficiently staffed offices outsource their billing printing.

Mail payment processing

Mail payment processing is quite possibly the most laborious 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.

Surprisingly, two of the four most efficiently staffed offices still manually enter payments. However, 14 of the 16 most efficiently staffed utilities automate the mail payment process in some way, while 21 of the 24 least efficient utilities manually enter mail payments.

Phone credit card payments

The next 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, process the payment authorization and, finally, enter the payment in the system.

Somewhat surprisingly, 8 of the 22 most efficiently staffed offices have a person in the office take phone credit card payments.

Service order processing

The final area, and new to this year’s survey, is service order processing. The survey queried whether utilities used paper or electronic service orders and if they were integrated with the billing software or not.

Somewhat surprisingly, the most efficiently staffed office, and six of the top eight utilities, continue to use paper service orders. 24 of the 116 utilities, or 20.7%, use electronic service orders integrated with their billing software. This is a trend I anticipate will increase with future surveys.

Upcoming webinars

If you’re interested in learning more about Logics’ Utility Billing software, I’ll be hosting Edmunds GovTalk webinars on the following dates:

  • Thursday, June 11 at 10:00 am Eastern
  • Thursday, June 25 at 10:00 am Eastern