Optimizing Billing and Customer Service with Multiple Third-Party Contractors

Last Modified: Jan 17, 2019

Authors:

  • Dana Hargrove PE, ENV SP, Ryan Nagel PE, ENV SP - Hazen and Sawyer
  • Jeanie Grandstaff, Jerry Byerly - Hopewell Water Renewal

Introduction
Data is a record, and the water industry is overflowing with these records. When collected with intention, data can provide the means to the achievement of organizational optimization and ultimately the creation of a great customer experience. Today’s customers possess an increased demand for organizational transparency and information at their fingertips. Realtime, accessible information can aid a utility in providing customers with superior service, with all stakeholders in mind, from one location. For Hopewell Water Renewal (Hopewell, Virginia), the stakeholders included the customers, the water billing company, the third-party sewer billing and customer service entity, and a third-party debt collections agency. Initially, a breakdown in the communication channels between the entities led to an incomplete database and reporting gaps in the billing and customer service database. These gaps had City-wide implications for financial reporting. Acknowledging this gap, Hopewell Water Renewal began the pursuit of billing and customer service alternatives ranging from maintaining the existing relationships and processes to bringing the sewer billing and customer service functions in-house.

Main Text
The primary goals of this work effort were to understand the workflow structure of Hopewell Water Renewal’s existing billing and customer service, fill the existing gaps in data collection and reporting, and evaluate the options to bring this work in-house. This evaluation included the following steps:

  • Collect and review existing billing and customer service data to understand the existing data system structure and integration;
  • Interviews with Hopewell Water Renewal staff and key stakeholders to solicit input on the existing billing and collections processes, policies, and procedures and to prioritize requirements for enhanced performance and alignment with existing corporate strategies;
  • Model the business process workflows and analyze Hopewell Water Renewal’s existing process(es) for revenue collection;
  • Analyze alternatives for a long-term billing and collections service solution from an internal operations perspective and from a procured third-party perspective;
  • Identify customer service and billing key performance indicators (KPIs) to better inform reporting and key actions; and
  • Apply business intelligence to enable efficient monitoring of financial health.
  • Hopewell Water Renewal identified the main overarching issue of the billing and customer service program to be a breakdown in communication between the various entities – a single entity did not house all the required data to generate meaningful information. The first step distinguished what work each entity was actually performing, as opposed to what each entity assumed another entity was performing. All involved parties were brought into the same room for a meeting to discuss, in detail, the billing and collections process from start to finish. The concerns and ideas of each entity were presented and carefully considered within the workflow structure to identify data and reporting gaps. Ultimately, this iterative process allowed for the workflow to be optimized to bridge the communication and reporting gaps.

    Because of the careful thought put into the reorganization of the existing workflow and reporting, Hopewell Water Renewal was able to leverage a challenging situation to improve the overall level of billing and customer care services, incorporate best practices, better understand and optimize business processes across the entire billing and customer service department, and maintain efficiencies at a time of high staff turnover.

    Conclusion

    Currently, Hopewell Water Renewal is working with its existing third-party billing and customer service provider to improve the existing level of service provided. The alternatives analysis estimated that it is approximately twice as expensive to bring the billing and customer service responsibilities in-house. Therefore, Hopewell Water Renewal is currently planning to issue a request for information and subsequent request for proposals for the provision of billing and customer service from new third-party vendors in July 2018.

    Despite currently remaining with its existing third-party billing and customer service provider, Hopewell Water Renewal has improved its internal process efficiency and effectiveness. The knowledge of the reporting information they require from their service provider and the continued effort to bridge the communication gap between all parties has allowed Hopewell Water Renewal to experience a reduction in uncollected revenue write-offs, has improved internal data transparency, and has increased overall organizational efficiency.

    For more information, please contact the author at dhargrove@hazenandsawyer.com.

    Hear about new publications with our email newsletter

    We will never share your details with anyone else.

    Horizons

    Newsletter Newsletter

    Horizons Summer 2018 (pdf)

    Horizons showcases significant water, wastewater, reuse, and stormwater projects and innovations that help our clients to achieve their goals, and can help you achieve yours. Articles are written by top engineers and process group leaders, demonstrating and explaining the beneficial application of a variety of technologies and tools.

    View previous issues »