Affordability. It's a word that gets tossed around a lot as water bills continue to rise. Over the past 10 years the and is going to continue to climb as our national wet infrastructure requires up to . But with nearly 15% of the US population living below the poverty line and spending , many families are more vulnerable to bill increases and water shutoffs. Water utilities have the responsibility of maintaining public health by providing high quality, readily accessible water and many providers have shown their commitment to their low-income customers through the implementation of Customer Assistance Programs (CAPs). In addition to CAPs, online customer engagement can reach low-income customers and help to ease their bill burden before they become delinquent.
By taking advantage of CAPs, at-risk customers are able to maintain water access that is crucial to their health and daily life. This doesn't just help low-income customers: CAPs can benefit anyone in the case that a temporary hardship should befall them. Beyond the more obvious benefits for customers, utilities are also able to see rewards in 3 areas:
- Reduced costs: A utility . With fewer delinquent customers receiving service disconnects, utilities are able reduce costs associated with water shutoffs, saving the utility money. Some utilities may also need to work with collection agencies to recover payments from delinquent customers. By implementing CAPs, utilities can also decrease administrative and legal costs associated with delinquent payers.
- Social responsibility: Utilities have a responsibility to protect public health. By caring for the less fortunate, they are able to give back to their community and ensure that there are fewer disconnections that may lead to public health problems.
- Public relations: CAPs are good publicity - demonstrating that a utility cares about its community can lead to improved public perception and an increase in satisfied customers. Currently there are as there are for other types of utility bills. Because of this, the responsibility to provide safe, affordable water for all lies with the individual utility and community. In addition, disconnections are often a target of public criticism. Reducing the number of shutoffs can increase the popularity of the water utility and increase its reputation within the community.
Of critical importance is the fact that CAP's are effective. Circle of Blue found that for those customers who enrolled in Seattle’s CAP, and due to a late payment.
Online Customer Engagement works to supplement CAPs.
As of 2017, . This is often . Consequently, the problem of water affordability persists. because of overdue bills. Another way to fight increasing bills, whether a utility has a CAP or not, is by turning to online customer engagement and self-service. This can provide support to at-risk customers in a variety of ways:
- Interactive solutions: Customer self-service platforms can help low-income customers understand and offer tips to decrease their water usage (and their bill!), which in turn decreases the likelihood of water shutoffs.
- Make it easy to pay: make the payment process more streamlined. In addition, having utility payment options accessible through a smart phone can make a big difference. for getting online. Mobile billing, text message or email alerts can help ensure that these bills are paid on time and give customers another easy way to access their consumption and bill information.
- Promotes awareness: There is traditionally due to ineffective public outreach. With a customer engagement platform, utilities can proactively target communications to customers who would most benefit from CAP enrollment, such as households already signed up for other assistance programs.
- Online application: Digitizing forms online can also help with the CAP application process. Historically, utility service requests included the laborious process of a customer having to print or pick up a form and then fax or return it to the utility. With , the process is streamlined and much more user-friendly. Using this innovation to allow customers to apply for CAPs can ensure that those who need assistance can obtain it easily.
With an online customer self-service platform, utilities can segment and target communications to customers ensuring that they receive the correct support.
CAPs are here to stay.
As infrastructure investment needs grow, utilities will need to continue to raise rates to support system rehabilitation. Low income households will need more help to ensure that water remains affordable and that the public health is protected. Whether the utility chooses to use CAPs, customer engagement, or both, utilities are helping to protect the communities they serve and ensuring that clean water keeps flowing for years to come.