Meter-to-cash is the lifecycle of providing utilities to customers and receiving payment. In this blog, we discuss how utilities companies can improve that process and customer experience.
Utilities companies are committed to providing their customers with safe, efficient and reliable service. Governed by regulations, policies and procedures, utilities can serve the homes and businesses in their territory that comply with these rules.
What is Meter-to-Cash?
Meter-to-cash is the cyclical lifecycle within which natural gas, electric, water and wastewater organizations operate. The cycle involves starting service, metering, billing, payments and collections. Customer experience (CX) expectations evolve with every CX breakthrough in banking, eCommerce and other areas. In this blog, we’ll walk through these lifecycle steps and insights for utilities.
Step 1: Start Service
Initially, the customer and utility are establishing an ongoing commercial relationship. Who is requesting service, for which location, what services are needed and is payment reasonably secure? No matter which class of customer, channel or set of media is used, utilities companies require these pieces of information to get off on the right foot. Organizations will do the following:
- Establish identity: To serve customers safely, utility companies verify their identity. For example, is this an existing customer? If not, can they confirm the customer’s existence with third-party data?
- Determine location: Resuming or assuming services at an ongoing location requires associating the new parties, meter readings and perhaps an inspection. In addition, when providing services at a new place, they need to consult the date needs of work management regarding the installation, potential issues that could arise and ongoing communication with the customer.
- Define services: In the past, attributes of the location dictated the primary service rate. Now (or soon), utilities companies can offer more personalized options and choices. Whether onsite generation, storage, community aggregation, micro-grid, affordability-discounting or standby service subscription, one-size-fits-one is upon us.
- Ensure payment security: Payment assurance has always been part of this process. At its simplest, the organization can assume a known customer with a successful payment record is secure and all others pre-pay a deposit. Various security options such as pre-paid, third-party credit scoring, shared utility experiences (skip tracing) and financial products – such as Deposit Alternatives – are gaining traction.
Starting services within the meter-to-cash cycle are rich with process, automation and digitization efficiency opportunities. Once the company establishes service, the periodic revenue cycle (metering-billing-payment-collection) begins until the customer voluntarily or involuntarily severs the commercial relationship. For example, if the customer moves or ceases bill payment and has their service disconnected.
Step 2: Metering
Mechanical or digital, a utility meter measures usage-based billing determinants to feed downstream processes. Collection methods have evolved from paper and electronic handheld books to wireless and wired collection schemes that present required measurements monthly, daily or in minutes to support CX and process efficiency.
Each iteration of automated metering moves expectations closer to instantaneous and remote manipulation.
Step 3: Billing
Utility companies typically manage billing cyclically or by event with customer information systems (CIS) software. Each commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) or pseudo-custom solution offers unique benefits. Generally, the CIS enables utility providers to measure, calculate and present bills, communicate with customers, troubleshoot and even proactively identify issues to avoid headaches down the road.
As services become personalized through innovations like onsite generation, storage, community aggregation, micro-grids, affordability-discounting and standby service subscription, systems that started when electromechanical induction cumulative meters dominated may require an upgrade. Flexible bill calculation replacement initiatives, such as those to support deregulation, will return to the forefront (e.g., GridX works on top of any customer information system).
Step 4: Payments
There are countless payment methods: from cash and checks to debit cards, credit cards, mobile payment solutions and electronic bank transfers, as well as auto-recurring and manual initiation options. Every utility customer begins their customer journey somewhere along these two continuums. Customer experience and feedback enable the continued improvement of payment methods and initiation. Payment for services is the goal, but efficiency and reliability improvements deserve attention.
Personally identifiable information (PII) compliance regulations have led most utility companies to enlist specialized third-party aggregators like InvoiceCloud, KUBRA and Fiserv to manage and promote payment efficiency. Providers partner with utilities to optimize payment lifecycles in areas such as:
- Financial regulation compliance
- Promotion of more efficient and reliable customer choices
- Access to 24/7 real-time payment methods like FedNow Service and RTP.
Step 5: Collections
Collections treatments are a departure from the ideal path of meter-to-cash. Something happens, and the providing company doesn’t receive the expected payment for services. For too long, when utility customers get behind on payments, it’s off to the races to satisfy minimum regulatory requirements to disconnect the customer’s service – minimizing loss at the first hint of a problem and using the inconvenience of not having utility service as a deterrent to missing payments.
Insights and information with AI/ML methods can proactively predict risks and intervene to remedy root causes for nonpayment, improving both the bottom line and customer experience. For example, aligning customers’ payment challenges with available federal, state and local assistance programs create win-win results. Or matching demand-side management (DSM) funds to reduce low-income customer usage through education, weatherization and available technology initiatives.
Commit to Meter-to-Cash Outcomes
When utility leaders commit to evolving meter-to-cash outcomes, all stakeholders benefit. Quality increases, care improves and productivity increases without adding more resources. Customers receive top-tier experiences they have grown accustomed to, and the organization may realize lower costs. In addition to providing a more efficient customer-service environment, the advent of this evolving meter-to-cash model has the potential to transform a utility company’s relationship with its customers.