It’s something that every water utility manager has experienced: a customer opens their mailbox only to find a surprisingly large bill because of a water line leak and their first reaction is to call your staff.
In most cases, when a utility bill jumps up by hundreds of dollars, customers are understandably upset. However, it is very rarely an issue on the utility’s end – usually it is because the home has a hidden leak, such as a water line leak or running toilet. With hidden leaks, the water runs into the sewage system, and the leak can go unnoticed from one billing cycle to the next, racking up hundreds of dollars in charges for customers who are accustomed to paying much less. Many of those customers are in despair after a leak because they don’t have the ability to absorb a financial shock like an unexpectedly high water bill.
“Some of the staff would feel like crying – I felt like crying at some of these hard stories, said Tony Howard, General Manager at Hecla Water Association in Lawrence County, Ohio. “They were sincere and doing their best to survive, they’re working for minimum wage and their partner is laid off.”
Not only are staff stressed by negative interactions with customers, but they often spend valuable time determining the source of a water line leak, which could be better spent on other tasks. On top of this, your utility will experience loss on the portion of overages that are forgiven and/or the administrative costs of creating and managing payment plans.
Customer complaints are stressful for you and your staff. But it doesn’t have to be that way – not with a partnership with ServLine by HomeServe.
“ServLine has saved our municipality several thousands of dollars we would have written off,” said Jennie Cagle, Niota, Tenn., Waterworks Department City Clerk. “ServLine has also helped with our ‘resident longevity,’ meaning, that, if the customer has a water line leak and owed a huge bill that they couldn’t pay, the customer would get so behind and end up cut off and/or vacating the residence and end up on our collections list. ServLine has been a lifesaver and has brought tears of joy and relief. This is the best program out there!”
In a survey conducted by HomeServe, partner water utilities cited two of their biggest pain points with water adjustment programs as the amount of money they had to write off and the uncomfortable conversations that staff had to have with customers (both 63 percent), followed by the amount of time that staff devoted to managing leak adjustment (38 percent). The three top reasons for choosing a partnership with ServLine included reducing customer complaints and bad debt and write off (both 69 percent) and free up resources (56 percent).
“The staff time that we had to deal with all these water line leaks prior – the staff would have to go out and investigate, see what the problem was, bring it to the board, gather all that information for the board – that adds up over a period of time,” said Cameron McKay, General Manager of the Kingsbury General Improvement District in Stateline, Nevada. “[Leak issues] now go directly to ServLine. They handle everything. Then ServLine sends us a check for the water that went through the meter, and we find it to be very, very efficient.
“We’ve been able to go back and look at our rates and drop our rates, because we don’t have to build water loss into these rates, and everyone who has used it has been very happy with it. I really like that it makes us the good guys now, not the bad guys.”
Among those partners surveyed, 13 percent said that bad debt made up 10 percent or more of their operating budget.
ServLine, backed by two A-rated insurance companies, offers a leak protection program that determines your customer’s average bill over the course of a year and pays the overage directly to your utility, protecting you and your customer from the financial shock associated with unexpected water loss. Your utility doesn’t lose revenue trying to soften the blow to your customers and you divert customers who might otherwise end up on a payment plan. Best of all, your customer satisfaction increases, and your employee morale improves.
“Now when customers come in [with an overage bill], my people can say, ‘see this line item, LP, that’s leak protection,” Howard said. “‘You have the ability to use this to cover over your average bill.’ You can literally see the relief wash over these people when they realize they aren’t going to have to pay over their average.
“You’re a hero. Before, you were the villain, but you’re the hero now. Just to see that my staff doesn’t have to go home with their shoulders all tight and their eyes all red, just to see what it did in my office, it’s worth it. The money is fantastic, but the increase in morale is why it works.”
For more information about how we can help you reduce bad debt and improve customer satisfaction, contact us.
Mark Slater, Jr. co-founded the ServLine Program in 2013 and currently serves as a General Manager. Mark and the Mid-Atlantic team help educate and develop the best program options for utilities and municipalities and their customers. Prior to coming to HomeServe, Mark enjoys 30 years’ experience in the insurance industry with the last 7 years focused on strengthening cities, utilities, and communities across the country by implementing innovative solutions to common problems.