27 Jan 21 Ways to Cut Costs in Your Billing Office
ALL UTILITY ORGANIZATIONS ARE BEING CHALLENGED TODAY WITH RISING COSTS
Staff are being asked to do more in the same amount of time, using the same tools and procedures that have been around for decades. Couple that challenge with ever changing technology…today’s latest and greatest being outdated next year syndrome … and how are you supposed to keep up?
SECTION 1 – OPERATIONS / CUSTOMER SERVICE
- e-Mail Customer Service: The phone rings, the customer has a question on their bill, the late payment, the consumption. You offer to re-print a bill, send a statement or account They will have it in a day or two. Save time & save money by having your billing system integrated directly to your email system so all documents can be sent and received in seconds instead of days. Save paper, toner, envelopes and postage. Faster service, lower cost. What could be better than that?
- Online customer service portals. Portal: a doorway, gate, or other entrance, an internet site permitting access. You can reduce both the phone calls, and the walk-in’s by implementing an online customer portal. Give your customers 24 x 7 access to their account history, current balances, consumption reports, basically all the info you have. Reduce phone calls, free personnel for higher level tasks, and give customers the info they want, when they want it. Want another way to free up personnel?
- Integrated Voice Response (IVR). As long as you have an online portal, consider adding IVR. IVR allows your customers, who may not have internet access, the ability to pay their bill 24 x 7 over any phone. The automated attendant will step them through entering their account number, verifying their identity, and taking a check or credit card payment. Every automated phone payment eliminates one more 6 minute phone call, and another disruption to the task at hand. Plus, these phone payments are electronically captured and entered into your billing system with an automated interface – saving more time and guaranteed
- Outsource Customer Service “Outsource” means “to obtain (goods or a service) from an outside or foreign supplier, especially in place of an internal source.” (Wikipedia). Outsourcing Customer Service to highly qualified, professionally staffed call center can be a viable option when faced with a retirement or employee turn-over. The billing and payment process is very cyclical, with a busy times, and not-so-busy times. Dare to Compare.
- Automate Data Entry. Stop manually entering data – from meter readings, consumption reports, credit card and bank files… with today’s technology, you should never have to key data from another.
- Better Reporting. Save time finding info and creating “on- demand” reports with the use of custom fields. Today’s software allows you to track and report on any infinite number of variables. Want to know a unique attribute of each customer you are talking to; their district, development, sewer plant, pump station… custom or user defined fields could cut hours of time finding pertinent information, as well as sorting and generating unique reports.
- Document Imaging. Running out of file cabinet space? Moving old documents to remote locations? Hire an intern and have them scan all your paper files into digital images and link them to your customer records in billing / customer service. All customer information is then in one place, and backed up every night. Improve customer service and help the guys in the field get their info quicker.
- Recover Costs. A new trend among utilities is to print and send duplicate bills for landlord / tenant properties. Another smart trend is to charge a small fee for the service. Your system today should easily support a once-per-year “Duplicate Bill Fee”.
- Automate One Time Documents. Your customer just bounced a check. You have to go into your billing system and put record the NSF, revert the payment and add the bank charges. Now what? You need to produce a “one-time letter.” Applications, NSF Letters, “trim the bush” letters should all be quickly and easily produced and recorded in the system. Automated letters save time and increase efficiency and consistency in procedures.
- Bar Code everything. That means every out-going document (bills, statements, late notices) should have a customer specific bar code printed on it. All your inventory and your fixed assets should also have bar codes. Why? Accounting and posting payments with bar codes are faster and more accurate than any human being… sorry. Entering inventory is faster and more accurate, not so sorry.
- Data Backup and Disaster Recovery Plan. Almost monthly, we see customers getting hit with new “ransom-ware”. This nasty program is usually released by click in an email that looked legit. Once launched, the software will encrypt all the files on your drive making your system useless. Those customers who took the time to put a Backup and Recovery Plan in place are back up and going with half a day. The not- so-adept are down and out… trying to recreate files and years of history from paper reports.
SECTION 2 – REDUCE THE COST OF PRINTING
- Save yourself, your staff, your board and your customers hours and hours of anguish by implementing and testing your backup and recovery process. e-Mail Billing. Whether you call if “going green” or electronic bill presentation, more and more people are opting to receive their bills electronically rather than on paper. And there is no easier way to cut hard dollar costs. Electronic billing and payment channels and automated solutions help customers manage and pay their bills online, help speed revenue collection and reduce accounts receivable and collections efforts.
- e-Mail Billing. Whether you call if “going green” or electronic bill presentation, more and more people are opting to receive their bills electronically rather than on paper. And there is no easier way to cut hard dollar costs. Electronic billing and payment channels and automated solutions help customers manage and pay their bills online, help speed revenue collection and reduce accounts receivable and collections efforts.
- Postal Permit Printing. If you mail more than 500 bills on a monthly basis, you should already be doing this. A Postal Permit reduces first class postage by .04 a piece, and eliminates the time it takes to stamp bills or run them through a postage machine. If you have less than 500, and / or only bill quarterly, outsourcing your printing and mailing may be cheaper for you in the long run. See #17.
- CASS Certification. Further reduce the cost of postage by using Postal CASS Certification. The Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) enables the post office to evaluate the accuracy of your addresses, and flags pieces that may not be delivered. CASS Certification is used by billers who want to get the lowest rate possible for their postage. Note: There is a cost associated with the service whether you do this in-house or rely on an outside vendor, but the savings can be significant. Use Blank Bill Stock – Not Pre-Printed Forms.
- Use Blank Bill Stock – Not Pre-Printed Forms. It’s simple. Today’s billing systems easily produce any style bill want – and laser printers can produce the “template” and data in a single pass. Pre-printed bills simply cost more than blank stock.
SECTION 3 – PAYMENT PROCESSING
- When It’s Color Bills You Want – Move From “Desk-Top Printers” To Your Central Copier. You’ll lower the “cost per image” from .18 down to .06 and lower. This is the cost you want to use to compare to pre-printed bills.
- Outsource Printing and Mailing. Eliminate the hassle of printing and mailing your bills by giving the task someone who does it every day… they are fast, know how to get the lowest cost possible and may save you time and money over printing in-house.
- ACH payments. The payment method preferred by senior citizens. Automatically deduct the payment from their checking or savings account each billing cycle and have it electronically deposited to yours. Some banks will charge a fee for the service.
- Online bill pay. More and more customers are using online payments – and the use of mobile devices (cell phones and tablets) have grown none just 5 years ago, to 30% last year. The majority of utilities choose to receive the full-face value of their bill, deposited directly into their account, and pass a convenience fee to the customer.There are several firms today that offer to set you up with their online payment system with zero dollars up-front costs. Some will deposit the funds into their account and pass them onto you. Don’t accept that. What if something happens to them, where is your money?Most make their money off the convenience fees charged and some also with “electronic bill presentation” or email bills fees.Then refer again to #3. IRV Automated Phone Payments apply here as well.
- Eliminate envelopes full of BANK CHECKS. When your customers pay their bill via thier bank’s online bill pay, an Electronic Lock Box will get you paid 3 – 9 days faster… money in the bank. Plus, it will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to accurately post payments without remittance slips.
- BONUS: Outsource Payment Processing. Lockbox Service. “In general, a lockbox is a post- office box (PO box) that is accessible by a bank. A company may set up a lockbox service with its bank for receiving customers’ payments. The company’s customers send their payments to the PO Box. Then the bank collects and processes these payments directly and deposits them to the company’s account. Typical costs are several cents per transaction to as high as one dollar or more. The company then authorizes a bank to check these mailboxes as often as is reasonable, given the number of payments that will be received. Because the bank is making the collection, the funds that have been received are immediately deposited into the company’s account without first being processed by the company’s accounting system, thereby speeding up cash collection.” (Wikipedia)
- BONUS: Check 21 / Remittance Processing. Remittance Processing refers to using high speed scanners to capture images of each check and each payment stub received for payment. The system then captures all the detailed information for each payment and produces two (2) files: First, one is posted directly to your billing system, eliminating the need for heads-down entry. The second file is a Check 21 File, that is sent directly to your bank. By electronically submitting the Check 21 to the bank, your checks are sent to the