You may be wondering how President Teddy Roosevelt’s foreign policy ideology relates to utilities, but stay with me here. Big stick diplomacy was based on the notion of negotiating (speaking softly) while having a strong military (the big stick) to support the negotiations and encourage the adversary to comply.

In my utility analogy, speaking softly is encouraging your customers who are behind in their payments to sign up for payment plans, while the big stick is your ability to disconnect service.

What I’m hearing

I recently heard from two sources – one who works for a utility and the other who, in the course of their work, is in contact with many utilities. I’m hearing from both of them that, as utilities start to contact customers about setting up payment plans, many of those customers have stepped up and paid their outstanding balances in full.

Taking advantage of the system

It appears as though many customers, knowing full well that a shutoff moratorium was in effect (and in many cases, late fees were suspended as well), chose to use their unpaid utility bill balance as an interest-free loan. Once these customers realized that late fees, and eventually disconnects, were resuming they chose to pay up and stop taking advantage of the system.

No government bailout

The utility employee relayed that the customer service staff from their utility heard from a number of customers that they weren’t paying because they thought the government would pay their unpaid balance. Once they realized this isn’t the case and they could be subject to disconnection, they chose to establish a payment plan or, in some cases, pay in full.

What does this mean for your utility?

My recommendation would be to begin notifying customers with large balances who haven’t established a payment plan that they are subject to disconnection if they don’t immediately establish a payment plan. Hopefully, you will experience some of the same results and many of these delinquent customers will pay their entire outstanding balance.

Virtual customer service seminar

The Utility Management Committee of the NC AWWA-WEA, of which I am a member, is sponsoring a Customer Service Virtual Lunch & Learn Seminar the week of October 5-8 (which also happens to be National Customer Service Week). Presentations are Monday through Thursday from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm so you can participate during your lunch hour. The price is very reasonable – $20.00 per day or $60.00 for all four days.

I will be presenting on Wednesday at 11:00 am on the topic of Customer Service Technology in the Field – Challenges and Opportunities with Mobile Workforce and AMR/AMI. Even if you aren’t intrigued by my presentation, I can assure you the other sessions will be worthwhile.

If you’re interested in attending, you can download the seminar registration form here.

WaterPro 2020 presentation video

If you missed my Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities presentation at WaterPro 2020, the virtual annual conference of the National Rural Water Association, you can view the presentation here.