A customer calls and wants to know the water and sewer rates in his town. What do you say? Do you direct him to your website? Tell him to swing by town hall or your office and pick up a pamphlet? Can you describe your rates quickly over the phone?
Keeping customers informed of the most up-to-date water and sewer rates keeps all parties on the same page. While there is much more to communication between utilities and their customers than only rate sheets themselves, making this information readily available in the form of readable and intuitive rate sheets is a step in the right direction. At the EFC we see a lot of rate sheets, through our work in the Smart Management for Small Water Systems project, various surveys for statewide water and wastewater rates dashboards, and other work. The rate sheets we have seen run the gamut, from clear and concise, to convoluted and labyrinthine, to essentially non-existent. This post summarizes four best practices for creating a good utility rate sheet that we have learned over the years.
1. Have One
The first step in having a readable, usable rate sheet is having one in any form. When the EFC performs rates surveys, sometimes a utility will quickly write the rates on a piece of paper and fax it over, or send a screenshot of their billing software. While the finance officers and billing clerks know their utility’s rates and are able to bill their customers properly, it is also important to have rates information readily available to those not within the office of the utility. Ultimately, a rate sheet is a communications tool that allows people outside of the utility’s offices to know how they are billed, and a rate sheet is the first step in engaging curious customers.
2. Make it Clear
Once you have started to construct a rate sheet, the next question you should ask yourself is: can someone who knows little to nothing about water rates understand this? This doesn’t mean a utility has to not share key rates information in order to avoid confusing someone. Rather, making the monthly (or bimonthly, quarterly, et cetera) base charges stand out, elucidating the consumption allowance including within the base charge, and outlining volumetric rate structures clearly allows the reader to see how much they will pay every bill and for every unit of water pumped in and wastewater pumped out.
3. Keep it short
This is easier for some utilities than others. If EFC Water has only two customer classes and a simple rate structure, they can make a simple rate sheet with ease. For many other utilities, with more complex rate structures or abundant customer classes, making it concise is more of a challenge (albeit a doable one). For utilities with only one customer class, it may seem like a good idea to list the total bill for every thousand gallons used, however this can get out of hand quickly and does not necessarily show customers where rates change if the utility uses a block rate structure. Having some calculated bills is great (e.g. for the average customer or for every 1,000 gallons up to 10,000), as long as you are mindful about how much space this information takes up.
4. Make it Accessible
Some customers may not care what their rates are, while others may think their rates are too high no matter what. For everyone else, having a readily accessible and coherent rate sheet helps the utility keep customers knowledgeable and maintain positive relations. Utilities that have websites would do well to post their rate sheets online, and update the posted rates if they change. For many utilities in municipalities without a website, or for non-municipal utilities without an internet presence, this is a moot point. If there is a website however, online postings are one of the most effective ways to spread this information to anyone who is curious.
Are you proud of your utility’s rate sheet? Tell us why in the comments!