Article - Don't be afraid to switch utility billing providers
Does this describe the utility billing situation at your multifamily property?
If you’re experiencing problems with your current utility billing services provider or receive daily and recurring calls from angry tenants, you’re not alone. The following are actual complaints from multifamily owners and property managers regarding their utility companies:
- The billing company added a service fee to the last month’s bill without our notification. In two days, we received 55 calls from residents complaining
- A tenant renting a one bedroom studio brought in her current water/sewer bill. The amount due was $1,000
- Their customer service is really poor. They can’t answer simple questions, they don’t have any authority to fix problems, and they don’t really seem to care
- Several tenants called our office wondering why their electric bills are so late. They were being billed for consumption three months ago
- We call our billing company four or five times a week and all we ever get is voice mail
- My e-mails are never returned
- I don’t think the readings from the submeters are correct and the bill amounts are all over the place
- We skipped a month of utility billing to apologize to our residents for all the billing problems they’ve experienced.
Why Haven’t You Switched?
When the service and response is so abysmal, it begs the question, why don’t owners and property managers switch providers? In some ways, it’s completely understandable. Even after multifamily managers have suffered from continual problems, there’s a real concern that changing companies will involve a tremendous amount of work and time.
Property managers are swamped with the daily operational requirements of running an apartment complex. Freeing up time to spend coordinating with a new provider, gathering the information they need, and potentially having to change existing processes is daunting.
If you switch providers, you might have to involve other departments, like accounting. They may be resistant to invest their time and attention on anything other than their day-to-day tasks.
There’s also a reasonable concern that residents will respond negatively. Many property managers question whether a change is the right move. There’s a lot of momentum to just keeping suffering on. Besides, at times don’t we all operate as if: “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t?”
Will Changing Billing Companies Fix the Problems?
It’s very natural to question whether changing providers will really solve the problems. The last thing any property manager or owner wants to do is spend time finding and contracting with a different billing company only to discover that they don’t do the job any better than the current provider.
At the same time, continually dealing with billing problems is painful. Tenants make sure of that. Working with companies who just don’t do a professional job, is wearing. Fifteen minutes spent listening to a resident vent, a half hour spent calling the billing company to find out why bills went out late, and pretty soon, you’ve lost countless hours fixing problems that should have just been handled by your vendor.
While you may cringe when thinking about the effort required to switch to a new billing service, it’s important not to ignore the impact your billing company is having on tenant satisfaction. Their performance can influence how residents view your residential complex, how likely they are to renew their leases, and how motivated they are to refer their friends. Disgruntled residents can quickly air your utility billing problems via social media and reach a large audience.
Changing Providers is Easier than you Think
Switching providers doesn’t have to take a lot of time and if you pick the right one, will allow you to recover those hours you’ve been spending dealing with billing issues. A competent company makes the billing process effortless for property management companies and minimizes their time investment. Changing companies also demonstrates to your residents that you’re responsive to their concerns and can prevent damage to your apartment complex’s reputation.
The Secret to a Successful Billing Provider Change
If there’s a secret to ensuring that the time you invest in selecting a new billing company is rewarded, it can be described as “qualify and plan.” If your billing problems have finally frustrated you to the point that you’re 100% motivated to change, here are a few suggestions.
Qualify Prospective Service Providers
While there are numerous service providers in the multifamily utility billing industry, the quality of their work product varies greatly. As you interview different vendors, pay close attention to the level of responsiveness you receive during the qualification process. How quickly do they answer your questions? Call their support line and see if you get someone on the phone. Do they offer performance guarantees?
This article includes some questions that might assist: How to Select an Effective Multifamily Utility Billing Services Provider.
Develop a Billing Transition Project Plan
Writing a project plan is key to successfully transitioning from one billing company to another. It can be simple and brief and it doesn’t require a professional project manager. Include the following:
- Task descriptions
- Responsible parties
- Due dates.
The better utility billing companies will write the project plan for you. Your plan should also address how these tasks will be managed:
- Sending an updated rent roll
- Determining the appropriate billing method
- Providing historical master-meter utility bills (12 mos. is preferable)
- Obtaining monthly master-meter utility bills
- Sending a letter of introduction to residents
- Accessing the submetering system (if the property is using submeters)
- Scheduling the first meter readings
- Conducting staff member training for the new billing system
- Explaining management reporting
- Providing updated accounts receivable data (if the service provider will manage resident payments)
- Scheduling the first billing date
- Delivering billing data for upload into a property management or accounting system.
Make sure you have a single point of contact at the billing company to work with and that the lines of communication are open and defined.
Suffer no More
Transitioning from one utility billing company to another can be a seamless, stress-free, and quick process. Armed with the right questions to ask, you can spend a minimal amount of time finding a billing provider who will deliver the service and responsiveness you’re looking for. There’s no need to settle for low-performing, tenant-frustrating billing vendors.
After you make your selection, craft a simple billing transition project plan. It will save you a lot of time and ensure that the cutover process is efficient. Your residents will certainly appreciate that you responded to their complaints, and you’ll remove a big source of frustration.
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