As utilities have dealt with COVID-19 and being closed to the public, many have appreciated not dealing with interruptions from walk-in customers. Some are even planning to stay closed to the public, even after life returns to normal.

Is it possible to completely close your office to the public?

The three most common things handled in person in utility offices are payments, applying for service, and questions or complaints about bills. To close your office to the public permanently, you must find a way to deal with each of these without face-to-face contact.

Let’s examine each of them in the order of easiest to solve:

Customer service

Handling customer questions or complaints over the phone is how many customer service issues are already resolved. By only dealing with customer service issues over the phone, you’ve already solved one piece of the puzzle.

Applying for service

As we saw in the last blog post, applying for service online is quickly becoming the primary way many utilities process service applications. If your utility has already transitioned to allowing your customers to apply online, you are two-thirds of the way to closing your office to the public!

If you are still accepting applications in person, you will need to address this before you can consider closing your office.

In-person payments

The biggest obstacle to overcome if you want to close your office to the public is accepting payments, especially if you have a substantial number of customers who pay with cash. Checks can be left in a dropbox and credit card payments can be made online, so cash payments pose the most significant problem.

I know of two municipal utilities that will not be reopening to the public. To remedy the cash payment issue, they will be using payment agents. Western Union has pay stations in many retail stores, even in small towns. To see where you can pay locally, using Western Union, enter your zip code in this locator and select “Pay a bill in person”.

This is your last chance!

The next blog post will be the first results issue for the 2021 Utility Fee Survey. If you haven’t already participated in the 2021 Utility Fee Survey, this is your last chance to do so! To complete the survey, please click here. It should take less than five minutes to complete.

I’m hoping for as much participation as possible in the survey, so please feel free to pass this on to your colleagues at other utilities.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the 2021 Utility Fee Survey.