Matt Bowd has recently joined the Aptumo team in Australia as General Manager and has extensive water utility experience, including billing. He is keen to connect water utilities with a proven billing system that can really help to make life easier for them and their customers. Matt told us “Any one of us could find ourselves in a financially difficult spot at any time. Situations can creep up on us unexpectedly and difficult decisions have to be made: keep a roof over our heads, put food on the table, or service other commitments like water bills?”
Matt continued “Water is the most essential of essential services and everyone has a right to safe clean drinking water and sanitation. While water utilities across the country recognize this and work hard to deliver a reliable service to their customers, they are also acutely aware of customer hardship issues. Many have partnered with financial counsellors and invested in specially trained customer service teams to support those who find themselves in hardship, with a big part of the training being how to distinguish between those who won’t pay and those who can’t.”
Specially trained agents are essential, but empathy and understanding must be supported by effective systems and processes to provide customers with tangible help. The financial counsellors’ advice is that customers need a “hand up, not a handout”, and recommend that utilities encourage customers to make small regular payments. This gives customers a renewed sense of control and helps them to develop good budgeting habits, while the utility receives some revenue - even if only a percentage of what is owed.
Back to Matt “Aptumo’s 3600 view of a customer’s billing and payment history allows agents to get to know customers who have identified as being in hardship and then work towards tailoring a payment schedule that suits both sides.”
It can, for example, support an agreed period of reduced payments by setting up and monitoring a calendar of installments. Throughout this period the customer makes regular payments which the utility ‘tops up’ with an additional pre-set contribution at certain points in the plan. This encourages the customer to adhere to a regular schedule of payments, with the utility’s ‘top up’ payment acting as an incentive by reducing the outstanding debt.
The amount the utility contributes can be varied on a customer-by-customer basis and a fixed sum of money can be ‘set aside’ to support a customer for the agreed duration of the agreement. This gives the utility control over how much they contribute to the outstanding debt, while encouraging and supporting the customer to develop good budgeting habits.
This may sound simple, but the billing systems currently being used by many water utilities won’t have the capability to automate this process, relying instead on expensive manual work arounds. This approach can be fraught with difficulties, such as delays in updating progress or ensuring the payment cycle continues when the incentive threshold had been crossed.
The final word goes to Matt “The thing that impresses me most about Aptumo is that functionality and benefit are so closely aligned; it simplifies the process for the water utility and delivers the best outcome for the customer. There really is deep domain sector knowledge behind Aptumo, and it shows”.
If you would like to know more about how Aptumo could help you deliver exceptional service to your customers, contact Matt Bowd at: [email protected].