City Gets at the Root of Water Shut-off Issues

“If they would just read their mail…”

This is a statement I hear from a lot of clients when talking about their customers (oftentimes, it’s “if they would just read their e-mails…”). The problem with the statement is that it can put the entire blame for an issue on the customer, when businesses need to be asking “What can we control? What can we impact?”

Staff at the City of Marysville were having an issue. The number of water shutoffs was increasing each week – up to 80-100 from half that number. This was driving more work for the staff and obviously irate feelings from City residents. The City initially blamed the economy and an auto-dialer notification system that didn’t work with cell phones, but that was just a theory. And to more permanently fix a problem, you need to determine the root cause.

To get at the root cause, they asked the customers about the issue. Customers thought they hadn’t received the bill even though they had received it. The problem was that the bill looked just like any other document – non-descript. The shut-off warnings were also non-descript. So how do you remedy this? An article on the story notes “The UB Team discussed several options to remedy this, and eventually settled on a cycle of three bills in different colors during the standard bi-monthly billing period: first a white notice, followed by a pink late notice for past due, then a yellow shutoff notice that warned that water would be shut off if payment wasn’t completed or arrangements made with the Utility Billing Department.”

The number of shut-offs now average under 30 per month.

When you have an issue, don’t assume the root cause and solution. Don’t immediately blame the customer, even if you communicated to them. The question is – did they notice, understand, and act on the communication? If not, what’s within your control to improve communications?

You can’t control the customer; but don’t use that as an excuse for not looking at your own options for improvement.

Interested in improving your organization’s customer service? See our other blog posts at: https://serviceadvice.cssamerica.com/category/government/

Learn about our CSS Government services at: http://cssamerica.com/cssgovt.htm

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