Developing customer assistance programs to drive positive customer engagement and improved financial performance
Utilities across the country are in the spotlight for how they work with “at risk” customers. In other words, customers who are unable to afford critical utilities – electricity, water, and gas.

By Tory Paez, Tricia Anklan and Margaret Bellon

Utilities across the country are in the spotlight for how they work with “at risk” customers. In other words, customers who are unable to afford critical utilities – electricity, water, and gas.  Recent examples include Detroit’s management of delinquent turn-offs, which was escalated all the way to the United Nations, and Austin Energy’s low-income discount program, applied incorrectly to residents who don’t need assistance. Customer assistance programs are often administratively complex and highly-susceptible to public scrutiny.

Nationwide, utilities and customers are finding there is a significant need to determine more effective ways to assist and support customers facing financial hardship. As the cost of utilities rise, and customers become more informed of available programs, there is a growing demand for assistance programs. Each utility faces unique and difficult challenges related to customer hardship and assistance. And each of these challenges directly impact the way in which a utility can meet rising financial, operational and political expectations.

West Monroe Partner’s Customer Assistance Program Development brings unique and specialized experience to make customer assistance program improvements, meeting the specific needs of each utilities’ operations. Our areas of impact will enhance a utility’s ability to manage customers facing financial hardship, and will assist utilities in meeting financial, operational, and political expectations. West Monroe provides value to utilities, social agencies and customers by focusing on the following components:

  • Strategy, including short and long term strategic initiatives, internal business alignment, and financial analysis of available funding sources
  • Business processes, including procedures and policies, as well as customer centric behaviors for continuous improvement
  • Technology, including systems and applications to drive and support the execution of organizational processes
  • Reporting and analytics, including data management, performance metrics and targets, as well as key performance indicators
  • People, including roles and responsibilities, resourcing, organizational structure, change management, and quality management
  • Communications, including relationship management, as well as external and internal communications and training

A robust and well-executed Customer Assistance Program has the ability to yield four primary positive results: increased monetary revenue and funding, increased access to the utility resource, decrease in volume of delinquent customers, and enhanced community relations.

  • Increase revenue and funding: Financially, Customer Assistance Programs develop ways to increase payments for customers who would otherwise be unable to afford their utility bills and thereby, increase revenue for the entire utility.
  • Increase access to utility resource: Customer Assistance Programs help to enhance access for citizens within a community facing financial hardship to critical utility resources (e.g. water, gas, electricity).
  • Decrease amount of delinquent customers: Greater assistance can prevent customers from entering delinquency and decrease the utility’s time, processes, and efforts in processing delinquent accounts, including service termination and collections handling.
  • Enhance community development: Efficient and effective Customer Assistance Programs build a sense of community by bringing together various stakeholders (e.g. social agencies, municipalities, residents), working towards a common goal, and increase the public’s perception of a utility.

Beginning with an operational and organizational assessment of utilities and social agencies, West Monroe utilizes current state understanding and analysis to identify future recommendations to enhance the processes and procedures within and across utilities and social agencies to best support customers facing financial hardship. By designing and improving a streamlined customer assistance program, utilities can minimize service disruption for at-risk customers, improve operational metrics, and increase standing in the eyes of local regulators and the public. We are passionate about making utilities an accessible resource to all – in a way that optimizes outcomes for both customers and utilities.

For more information on how you can leverage a Customer Assistance Program within your utility, please contact Tom Hulsebosch, thulsebosch@westmonroepartners.com and Mike Wayman, mwayman@westmonroepartners.com.