Thoughts

A place for education, information, and insights about the water industry.

Topics: customer assistance programs

Customer Engagement and CAPs: Strategies for Water Affordability

August 28, 2018
| By Sophia Stetson
Affordability. It's a word that gets tossed around a lot as water bills continue to rise. Over the past 10 years the  median water bill has risen 75%  and is going to continue to climb as  our  national  wet  infrastructure requires  up to  $1 trillion in rehabilitation investment over the next 25 years . But with  nearly   1 5 % of the US  population  liv ing  below the poverty line  and spending  3% of their after-tax income on water ,  many  families are more vulnerable to bill increases and water shutoffs.  W ater 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  C ustomer  A ssistance  P rograms (CAPs) . In addition to CAPs, online customer engagement can reach low-income customers and help to ease their bill burden before they become delinquent.
 
Why CAPs?
By  taking advantage of  CAPs, 
...see more

Topics: Editorial

Defining Total Customer Engagement

November 14, 2017
| By Jeff Lipton

Elusive Definitions Total Customer Engagement is an amorphous concept that is difficult to define or quantify. Depending on the nature of a given business, engagement may be described using language such as touches, opens, responses, clicks, registrations, reach, shares, influence, views, or other nebulous terms. This language leaves organizations ill-equipped to define and measure the impact and benefits of communicating with customers in a wide-range of situations.

For the water industry in particular, a century of silent service has created an aversion to engaging with customers. Complaints from customers on high bills, boil notices, and service outages created the impression that less engagement with customers was preferable. Now that customers are always connected with digital devices and real-time notifications from nearly every common service provider (electric, mobile phone, internet, cable, etc.), the bar for more

...see more

Topics: Editorial

The Affordability Battle

January 31, 2017
| By Andrea Sospenzo

How to Maintain Infrastructure Without Compromising Affordability There’s a lot we don’t agree on; however, there’s one thing we can all say is true—everyone deserves access to clean water. Drinking water and wastewater utilities have taken on the responsibility of providing clean drinking water and to uphold public health standards in neighborhoods and communities. Unfortunately, there’s always a trade off: utilities have to invest in a variety of innovative technologies and infrastructure to ensure they are up to date with current drinking water standards. In order to pay for these investments, utilities typically rely on customer revenues, which can raise another problem—affordability.

Why Are Water Rates Rising? According to Circle of Blue’s annual water pricing survey, the average monthly water utility bill for a household using 50-100 gallons per person per day rose nearly six percent in 30 major U.S. cities in 2015 and

...see more

Topics: Editorial

Deconstructing Payment Performance

November 16, 2016
| By Jeff Lipton

The Size of the Challenge Water remains relatively inexpensive. So if a handful of end-users can't, won't, or forget to pay their water bill, you wouldn't think it would have much impact on utility finances. It turns out that payment performance is actually a really big deal that costs the industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year. As of 2010 U.S. water utilities generated over $42 billion in annual revenue and given the pace of rate hikes over the past few years that number is now likely closer to $50B. Perhaps unsurprisingly, water utilities report being unable to collect between 0.5% and 1.5% of billed revenues each year. To make the math simple, let’s assume that 1% of $50B in annual revenue is uncollectible which equals losses of $500 million each year.

Yet it doesn’t end there. Many customers that are unable to pay their bill are subject to costly service disconnections that add to utility losses. It’s estimated that

...see more

Topics: Did you know?

Rethinking Disadvantaged Community Engagement

September 27, 2016
| By Seth Engel

Water utilities spend a disproportionate amount of time engaging with disadvantaged communities, often to address delinquent or unpaid bills and service disconnections that leave everyone worse off. If a utility is using a shutoff notice as an engagement tool, they are doing it wrong. There are better ways, like implementing customer assistance programs (CAP) to prevent shutoffs in the first place.

Preexisting notions about disadvantaged customers being out of reach of digital communications methods are, in fact, incorrect. According to the Pew Research Center, over 50 percent of low-income households own a smartphone. Smartphone penetration in this demographic creates substantial opportunities for utilities to reach disadvantaged communities with software solutions like customer self-service platforms and targeted digital communications.

How software providers can help

The following framework is inspired by the EPA’s framework

...see more