What is your utility’s “corporate culture”…?

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Three issues ago, I wrote about presenting a more customer friendly utility bill. This led a reader to ask “You advocate no-nonsense, tough policies with customers and yet, you write about being ‘customer friendly.’ How do you reconcile those two positions?”

We often read about “corporate culture” in the business world. I believe that utilities can effectively fashion an organizational culture that includes sound (some would say “tough”) business practices and policies while still being customer friendly.

Adopt sound business practices and policies

Most utilities, whether government agencies, non-profit entities or for-profit enterprises, operate as monopolies. This means your customers can’t take their business elsewhere and you have an obligation to provide a service at the lowest possible rates.

Maintaining the lowest possible rates requires operating your utility as efficiently as possible while protecting against losses. Losses for a utility can include theft of service or embezzlement, but most often are seen in bad debt accounts that must be written off.

Minimizing written-off accounts can be best accomplished by implementing policies and procedures that ensure:

  • adequate security deposits
  • timely due dates and cut-off for non-payment processes
  • effective final billing procedures and collection tools

I don’t believe enforcing fair and effective policies and procedures is at odds with being customer friendly if you have communicated these business practices to your customers. Failing to clearly inform customers of your policies and procedures is bad business and borders on deception.

Another imperative to being customer friendly is treating your customers equitably and applying policies fairly to all customers. This includes not granting special favors to influential or politically connected customers or friends and family members of utility employees.

Effectively publicize your policies and procedures

The key to informing your customers of your policies and procedures is to use all possible means to do so.  This includes:

  • providing new customers with your customer service policy
  • comprehensive, easy to navigate website and Facebook page
  • informative utility bill

It is possible to be “customer friendly” and operate an efficient utility

What is your utility’s organizational culture? Do you treat your customers fairly and hold them all to the same standards? Do you take advantage of every means possible to communicate your policies to your customers?

If you do all the things listed above, I believe it is absolutely possible to have an organizational culture that allows you to be both customer friendly and still operate a utility that adheres to sound business practices.

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