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Arming Customers with Self-Service to Combat Rising Water Costs

By Avril Dalin

Water is crucial to life. Without it, humans would not survive for more than 3 to 4 days. But access to clean drinking water is not free. Research from Michigan State University published in 2017 reveals water rates have increased by 41% since 2010. And if rates continue to rise in the next 5 years, then 46.08 Million US households won’t be able to afford water. In 2019, further investigation by Bluefield Research shows that the combined US monthly water and wastewater bill amounts to US $104 average per household when adjusted for inflation. A study conducted by the American Water Works Association also indicates that low-income households must spend an average of 9.7% of their disposable income and/or work 9.5 hours at minimum wage to pay for basic water and sewer service. In an effort to help wrestle the growing crisis of water affordability in the United States, WaterSmart Software and Invoice Cloud have partnered to provide ratepayers a suite of self-service tools to manage rising water costs.

Slowing water rate increases with improved payment experiences

As of 2018, according to the chart below from Statistica, the US water utility industry generated US$61.8 Billion in revenue. Uncollected revenue and delinquent payments can increase financial instability for water utilities, which can lead to increased reliance on loans and bonds to secure continued water services. Alternatively, utilities may also be forced to increase rates to sustain operations. Nonetheless, loans and bonds will ultimately still induce water rate hikes as utilities will need to raise revenue to pay back interest.

US water utility industry revenue chart

In order to secure financial stability and mitigate the rising cost of water, utilities must improve payment performance by lowering the barrier to paying bills. This is why WaterSmart Software and Invoice Cloud have collaborated to provide customers with a unified experience to easily pay their bills via their preferred method and schedule. Speak with a Specialist to Learn More.

When it comes to helping secure affordable water, WaterSmart Software focuses on solutions to empower customers to have more control over their bill amounts. At WaterSmart’s core is the mission to change the way the world uses water, and thus advocating for water efficiency.

Encouraging efficient water behavior to maintain water affordability

Encouraging water efficient behavior may be one of the most powerful methods in assuring lower water bills. Afterall, end-users have the most control over their usage, which ultimately determines how much they pay at the end of each billing cycle. Multiple experiments have shown that social comparisons are influential in changing individual behavior. In a third-party study with East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), a year-long experiment was conducted to test whether social normative comparisons could motivate household to reduce water use through changes in behavior or adoption of more water efficient technology. Home water reports were sent to a treatment group of EBMUD customers while another group, the control group, did not receive anything. Strong evidence showed that households in the treatment groups were significantly more likely to participate in audit and rebate programs than those in the control group.

watersmart home report

WaterSmart has scaled this process by sending monthly home water reports. The reports compare each customer’s usage to similar households and to efficient homes in their neighborhood. But, comparing usage is not enough. To successfully help customers reduce water bills, the reports incorporate personalized water-saving recommendations to further encourage efficient water behavior. Each recommendation includes estimated dollar savings configured for each customer to further incentivize behavioral change.

WaterSmart is committed to ensuring water utility messaging is always easily accessible for their customers. Hence, this information on top of being delivered via email or print mail is also embedded in each customer’s online account-- their one-stop shop for any and all water service-related needs from monitoring usage, communicating with utility staff, paying bills and requesting additional service.

Self-service empowerment to prevent higher bills

When it comes to affordability concerns, utilities must also consider customer bill shock. A household’s ability to properly budget for water bills can have rippling impact on other purchasing needs, especially on food security for families that live paycheck to paycheck. As it turns out, when WaterSmart surveyed utilities serving populations of greater than 100,000, bill shocks ranked as the top reason for customer calls.

Customers will call to complain that their bills do not properly reflect their perceived consumption. Not only are these calls a time burden for both parties involved, they also often lead to a field visit which can be another added cost. This is why the WaterSmart team has implemented bill forecast notifications to get ahead of the shock and minimize customer calls. Customers can now set a dollar and/or gallon threshold for their usage. In the event, that current usage is on track to exceed their budget, customers will be notified and provided with information for them to not only understand what is going on, but also have the right tools to accordingly make changes.

One of these self-service tools is the Bill Explainer wizard where customers can self-identify billing issue while simultaneously educating themselves on how they’re using water at their homes. Although, providing access to information alone is never enough. It does not actually help combat the rising cost for water. Again, the key is proactivity and providing actionable steps for the customer to follow. The wizard not only leverages artificial intelligence to diagnose patterns that can lead to high bills, it also makes personalized, relevant recommendations to allow end-users to enhance their consumption management and avoid future bill surprises.

Water affordability is a silent crisis crippling families across the United States. And WaterSmart is committed to helping utilities provide the best customer service they can for their communities. This is why WaterSmart has partnered with Invoice Cloud to improve the customer payment experience to help utilities have greater revenue assurance and end-users have more confidence in paying their bills. With WaterSmart Software and Invoice Cloud in place, every dollar and drop is covered.

 

This is a guest post by Avril Dalin, Marketing Specialist at WaterSmart.

Tags: user experience, self-service

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