The Importance of Finding the Right Partner in the Utilities Space: Lessons from the Texas Winter Storm

Pat Dorsey, President of First Billing Services. He has grey hair and is wearing sunglasses.

By Pat Dorsey
First Billing Services

It’s no exaggeration to say that the winter storm that struck the state of Texas last month resulted in damage that was unprecedented in scope for the region. The after-effects of this major winter event have been well-reported in media outlets across the country: widespread power outages, leakages and flooding of residences due to frozen pipes bursting, and thousands of Texans slapped with sky-high utility bills on top of this devastating damage to their homes.

As Texans worked with their utility companies amid an ongoing crisis, we were once again reminded that a personalized, human approach to service is an absolutely critical component in our industry. This was something we witnessed firsthand during the storm as our partner, Si Environmental, which provides water services to thousands of customers in the greater Houston area. During the storm, a large portion of their customer base, as high as 35%, experienced leaks in their homes and therefore, extremely large water bills. Water usage is tracked automatically, which in most instances ensures accurate billing for customers. However, when leakages occurred, it caused a spike in potential billing amounts, in some instances by a whopping 10,000%

As customers were facing not only serious damage to their homes, but also grappling simultaneously with astronomically high utilities bills, Si Environmental (SiEnviro) reached out to our support team, which processes their customers’ water bill payments. We asked for their urgent assistance to notify customers to review their water bills before their auto-pay date for any issues, as well as to place a hold on auto-payment if needed.

At Paya, we were able to respond to SiEnviro quickly, drafting a note for their customers and helping them reset their autopay as necessary. We also helped work with customers who had already paid an irregular water bill to arrange for a payment reversal.

For SiEnviro, it drove home the importance of strategic partnership within the utilities space in particular. In the words of one of our contacts at SiEnviro, “This type of service is what we all strive for; it’s during these types of situations and extreme events that you learn who really cares about the client and ultimately, the end customer.”

Utilities are a simple service, yet especially vital in a time of crisis. Working with the right partners made all the difference for SiEnviro and their customers at an extremely critical moment.

The experience also offered a number of takeaways for players in the utilities space as they think about the optimal partners who help them provide the full scope of services – from maintenance to billing – for their customers.

  1. Especially in a time of crisis, the best solution for your company and your customers may not be part of normal business operations. But if your partner is listening and is eager and committed to working with you to find the best possible path forward for your organization, you’ll recover more quickly from emergencies. Your partner should be on your team, and they should be as invested as you are in serving your customers.
  2. Honesty and transparency are key. – A good partner is a realistic one. They don’t overpromise to you and more importantly, to your customers. While they may have difficult news to share, they will be upfront about the challenges, and work with you to find and implement Plan B or Plan C.
  3. Communication is critical. Especially when time is of the essence, communicating proactively is of paramount importance. Your partner should show you that they are on top of finding and implementing the solution, and you should never be left wondering where things are in this process. In doing so, they will help you make sure that your customers feel supported and that their needs and issued are being addressed.

While much of the work in the utilities space is automated, the Texas winter storm proved that customer service in this industry is as critical a component as efficiency and technological innovation. Equally important is working with a partner who was focused on quickly finding the best solution to help customers through a difficult time – rather than on the bottom line. Finding this partner proved not only to be a necessity for business continuity amid the Texas winter storm, but also to ensuring customers’ well-being during a major crisis situation. As the utilities industry in Texas takes stock of the lessons learned from this incident, this is a takeaway that should be given equal weight along with the technical and infrastructure issues that the storm exposed.

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