Does your utility have a formal customer service policy? If you do, how recently have you reviewed it? Not just read through it, but reviewed it with an eye for revisions that reflect updated policies and procedures?

A formal customer service policy outlines the rights and responsibilities of both your utility and your customers. It describes what is expected of your customers and what actions you will take if they don’t comply. It should also define what your customer’s remedies are if they are billed incorrectly or treated unfairly.

If you don’t have a formal, published customer service policy, you have no way of insuring that all customers are treated fairly. Your customers, in turn, have no way of knowing what to expect from your utility.

Let’s look at a few key elements of an effective customer service policy…

Application for service requirements

When applying for service, do you require new customers to present photo identification or a lease agreement? If so, this should be stated in your customer service policy.

Will you activate service for a new customer the same day if the application is made before a certain time? Or will the customer have to wait until the next day to be turned on? Is there a fee for same day service?

Answers to these questions regarding initiating service should be listed clearly in your customer service policy.

Security deposit policies

Likewise, security deposit policies should be clearly defined. This is especially important if you don’t require the same deposit amount from every customer. For example, if you offer variable deposits based on a customer’s credit rating this should be clearly defined in your policy.

Policies regarding refunding deposits should also be included. Do you refund deposits after two years of good payment history? Or do you hold all deposits until the account is closed? Either way, your customers should be able to find this information in your policy.

Fee schedule

Similarly, your fee schedule should be clearly defined in your customer service policy. Customers should have no doubt how much you will charge if they bounce a check or are cut off for non-payment.

If you revise your fee schedule regularly, your customer service policy should be updated at the same time to reflect the revised fees.

Payment options

While it isn’t necessarily important to list all the different ways customers can pay their bills, many customer service policies include these. What is important, however, is to describe any expectations of your customers if they choose a particular payment option.

For example, if, after a certain number of returned checks in a specified period of time, you will no longer accept checks from a customer, this should be clearly noted in your policy.

Likewise, if you charge a convenience fee for certain types of credit card payments or require good payment history to sign up for bank drafts, these should also be included.

Delinquency and cut-off policies

One of the most important topics to be addressed in a customer service policy is your delinquency and cut-off policy.

How many days from the date of the bill does your customer have to pay before a late payment penalty is applied? How many days after that do you disconnect for non-payment? Will they receive a second notice? How much is the reconnect fee if an account is cut off for non-payment? Is this fee assessed to all accounts or only to accounts that are cut off? Will you make payment arrangements to allow customers to continue to receive service while paying off large bills?

The answers to all these questions should be clearly answered in your customer service policy.

Adjustment policies

If you offer leak adjustments for water leaks, the terms of such adjustments should be stated in your customer service policy. Likewise, if you offer summer sewer adjustments, these should also be addressed.

What if a customer is underbilled due to an error on your part? How far back will bill them and over how many months do they have to pay the difference. On the other hand, if a customer is overbilled, what will you do to correct the overbilling?

Again, the answer to all these questions should be addressed in your customer service policy.

Make your customer service policy available

In an effort to be customer friendly, I encourage you to make your customer service policy available to all customers, especially new customers.

Provide a copy to all new customers as part of a new customer packet. If it is a lengthy document, consider publishing a pamphlet with a synopsis of the key elements and give this to new customers.