Although over 95% of our customer base has high billing accuracy and meter read rating, some of our customers may go several months without receiving or submitting electrical or natural gas meter readings. This results in bills being based on estimates for periods longer than four months.
There are a variety of reasons why this can happen, including customers not being aware of how to send in readings; or lack of access by our meter readers due to animals on the property.
The 4 Plus Program
As our estimates are based on their previous year’s use (and/or previous owners), estimates may not always be accurate. An initiative by Manitoba Hydro Utility Services (MHUS) — the 4 Plus Program — aims to help ensure our customers’ bills are accurate.
Through the 4 Plus Program, MHUS will call customers with four or more consecutive meter estimates for accurate readings.
Albert Mercado, a caller from MHUS, recently reached a customer with over fifty consecutive estimates — over two years’ worth. The customer was a correctional officer busy with 16-hour days out of city limits, so he was appreciative of the help.
“He was happy and grateful for the call, and it’s great because now he knows there are options and feels comfortable sending us readings,” said Albert.
“It’s critical to Manitoba Hydro and our customers that we find new ways to decrease estimates and improve billing accuracy for customers who have gone months without a reading. It’s a small percentage of our overall customer base, but it’s eye-opening when you realize how many estimates are out there running month after month,” said Ryan Didoshak, manager at MHUS. “A single customer can have a streak of estimates anywhere from 10 to 15 months in a row.”
The program offers the opportunity to educate customers on the importance of submitting readings and showing them the submission methods available, and also provides support if they can’t read their meter. For example, if a customer may be elderly or living with disabilities that prevent them from being able to access their meter easily, the 4 Plus Program can send a meter reader to help within 30 minutes.
Since March 1, MHUS has:
- Made 3,348 outbound customer calls with four or more estimates on their bills.
- Obtained readings from 562 of these calls (17%).
- Left 2085 voicemails with instructions to call MHUS back, call Manitoba Hydro and leave meter readings on the self-service IVR, or use the Manitoba Hydro app.
- Reduced 7,030 months (586 years!) worth of estimates on customer accounts.
The longest estimated single customer bill was 99 months.
“There’s also a good portion of people that don’t realize they are on estimates because they have been submitting readings outside of their three-day read window, so feedback from helping them straighten that out has been positive,” said Robin Sontag, supervisor at MHUS.
The overall meter reading process has become even more efficient and improved customer experience and billing accuracy.
Winnipeg is the focus of the program, but it might be expanded to rural areas in future.