Utility Department Uses Weekly Notifications to Better Communicate With Customers

Industry: Municipality
Client Since: 2009
Number of Employees: 500
Location: Eastern Tennessee
Population: 16,700
Tyler Products Used: Incode Utility Billing, Incode Utility Billing Online & Interactive Voice Response, and Tyler Notify

“This is the city of Sevierville Water Department. The service at _____ is scheduled for disconnect. To avoid a reconnection fee, payment must be made by 5 p.m. ...”

Every Friday afternoon Andrea Madison schedules the same notification call to be distributed to utility customers at risk of having their service terminated for non-payment. As Sevierville’s only utility billing clerk for an estimated 12,500 customers, Madison’s days are spent preparing weekly billing statements, answering phone calls, and fielding customer questions. Through the hustle and bustle of this work, the city’s field technicians are always there with a friendly reminder about that weekly notification.

“Before they leave for the weekend, they always make sure I’ve sent the phone call as they refer to it,” Madison said.

No problem. Three minutes out of her day and the notification is set to be distributed the next evening. Her appreciation for the speed of this process is immense, partly because she remembers a time when it wasn’t so simple.

Recognizing a Need

The city of Sevierville operates using four different billing cycles, which means utility bills — and delinquent account notices — must be distributed to a different portion of their customer-base weekly. On a slow week, the number of delinquent accounts hovers around 50. On a busy week it can reach 100 or more.

Just a year ago, the process for notifying delinquent customers was inconsistent. Not because Madison and the staff at the city of Sevierville didn’t think it important or necessary, but because they serve a growing community and service area, and their resources are spread thin.

“The only method we had for notifying customers was a notice on their billing statement they receive,” Madison said. “Other than that, if our cashiers or customer service reps had time we would attempt to contact them ourselves.”

Due to the time it took to contact delinquent account owners, Madison said they would often focus their efforts on businesses or other large accounts. And, because customers know they initiate cutoffs on Tuesdays, they’d experience an abundance of account status inquiries every Monday.

Today, the city of Sevierville has increased the efficiency of this process, enhanced customer communication, and decreased cutoffs by leveraging Tyler Notify.

Delivering Better Communication

Through integration with the city’s existing Incode® software, Madison gathers a list of delinquent accounts and uses Tyler Notify to customize and distribute a cutoff warning via phone and text. The ability to communicate with customers in this manner is a win-win, Madison said. It’s easy and efficient for the city and gives customers advanced notice through a familiar communication method.

Tyler Notify allows us to have another form of communication through technology. Most people have smartphones, so the instantaneous communication with them through a call, and especially text, is a benefit.

Andrea Madison

Accounting Technician/Utility Billing Clerk

Once a customer receives a delinquent account notice on Saturday, they have until Tuesday to make a payment. For added convenience, payments can be made on the city website by following the link in their text notification or using their Interactive Voice Response (IVR) phone system.

“The customers really appreciate the phone calls and texts they receive because it allows them a couple of extra days to pay before their service is disconnected.”

Achieving More Efficient Operations

The city is reaping the rewards of increased customer communication as well. Once a message is sent through Tyler Notify, Madison reviews the delivery results. From that information, she can identify which accounts have outdated contact information, reach out to the customer to update their records, and ensure future delivery.

In the 10 months the city has been live on Tyler Notify, they’ve sent more than 2,600 phone calls and disconnected only 1,100. Compared to the previous year, cutoff numbers have decreased by half. This reduction has improved the efficiency of the office as a whole, but perhaps no one more so than the city’s field technicians.

Prior to Tyler Notify, technicians were dedicating about two days a week to disconnects or reconnects. In a city with a large service area, fewer disconnects means less drive time, and more time to focus on other tasks like meter changes, rereads, and leak inspections. With the increase in productivity, it’s no wonder they’re sure to remind Madison to send the message every Friday.

In the future, Madison would like to see Sevierville use Tyler Notify to let customers know their statement is ready, which she believes could reduce mail costs. She also sees the potential to proactively alert customers of water outages. For now, she’s grateful for what their new system has meant for both their city and their customers.

“It’s easy,” Madison said. “It’s efficient, and better communication with our customers is a benefit to them and to the city.”

Case Study Highlights

  • Weekly cutoff numbers decreased by half
  • Text notifications include a link for convenient, online payment
  • Technician time spent on disconnects or reconnects now reallocated to other work

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