City of Tshwane

City of Tshwane

The business challenge for the City of Tshwane was that customers did not always receive their bills, and if they did, it would often be late. The City relied on their printing partners SITA and SAPO to ensure customer statements were delivered on a monthly basis.

Reprinting of statements:
Customers were required to present their statements when making payments at the Customer Service centres. It was however discovered that in most cases the statements were either not received or misplaced. This meant that a customer would need to first request a statement reprint before moving to the Rates Halls to make a payment. In some cases customers just wanted an outstanding balance so they would request a report of the statement. This created an additional cost to the City for the re-printing of statements already issued and an unnecessary influx of people at the Customer Service Centres.

Erroneous disconnections and Suspense account:
The payments made against an account had to be allocated promptly by the City to avoid disconnections. It was however discovered that electronic payments were in a number of cases referenced incorrectly by the customers, which led to erroneous cut-offs and a growing suspense account on a monthly basis. Some cases would get resolved only once the customer provided the proof of payment to the City. Additionally, payments made via Third Parties wouldn’t reach the City in time in order to prevent disconnections. The reconnection of these erroneous cut offs is often facilitated by outsourced contractors. This of course comes at a hefty financial cost for the City. A cost that isn’t always recoverable from the ratepayers.

Meter Readings:
The process to submit meter readings as well as the consumption estimations thereof was a major pain point for the City, specifically from a billing perspective. Historically, meter readings were either submitted telephonically or via e-mail. These readings would be transcribed erroneously into the billing system and the customer would still receive a bill based on an estimated consumption as the reading that was emailed or conveyed electronically was captured incorrectly. This had a severe impact on call centre volumes and capacity as call centre agents were being used to capture meter readings as opposed to attending to other queries.

The Solution

eTshwane:
Interfile introduced and implemented a platform called e-Tshwane that allows customers to engage with the City online. The service is available 24 hours, 7 days a week and is operated on the web, Mobi and kiosks. The service is provided as a SaaS, meaning it is hosted, operated and maintained by Interfile.  The portal is designed and adapted in line with the City of Tshwane's corporate identity. This solution is highly configurable so new services can be added to the platform according to the City’s requirements.

Registering on the service:
The system requires each user to register before using the service, and then link their municipal account to the newly created profile in order to receive their statements electronically.

The service allows for multiple levels of authority within a profile. Users are assigned different rights on a particular account, for instance a clerk within an organisation can view and prepare payments for a group of accounts.

Data Cleansing through Demographic Updates:
The registration process also provides the City with an opportunity to perform a data cleansing exercise as customers provide their most recent contact details when registering for the service.  These personal details can be updated at any stage and the service can be configured to force an update of certain details upon login should the City feel the need to do so. This information is then fed through to the core financial system of the City thus providing the City with the most up to date information for the customer.

Electronic Bill Presentment:
Customers now receive, view and pay their bills online. They also receive a notification via SMS or email once a new bill has been issued by the city. Customers therefore don't need to visit a Customer Service Centre to receive a reprint of their accounts. It is available electronically and stored in a history for up to 3 years. The system also allows the customers to have their statement emailed by setting their communications preferences.

Payment Instruments:
The system offers a number of payment instruments to customers, e.g. Credit Push, Card not Preset (Visa Checkout), instructed debit or Thin bill. All payments made via the service settles directly into the City of Tshwane’s bank account. The user also has the ability to request for a reconnection upon making payment against a specific account. This feature sends a notification directly to the City’s Credit Control department, triggering an automated reconnection process which is facilitated within 4 hours as per the City’s commitment to its ratepayers in this regard. This, without the ratepayer having to visit a Customer Service Centre.

Meter Readings:
The e-Tshwane service also allows customers to submit their meter readings online according to the billing schedule of the City. The reading is captured directly into the billing system. The need to re-capture the meter reading from an email or a telephonic conversation is thus completely removed. The billing system is configured to accept a reading submitted by the Meter Reader employed by the City so as to override the reading submitted by the customer in case of a dispute.

Call Centre:
The service also allows the customer to log a query, complaint or compliment to the City.  These are categorised according to a specific services, e.g. street lights, electricity, traffic lights, municipal query, etc.

Interfile also provides a dedicated Call Centre that only deals with queries related to the e-Tshwane service.

Additional Services:
A number of additional services were introduced and / in the pipeline - after the initial implementation; These include but not limited to:

  • The Investor Portal: Allows direct engagement between potential investors and - the Trade and Investment division of the City about various investment opportunities.
  • The Emergency Services Portal: This is envisioned to facilitate direct engagement between the emergency services department (for the delivery of various emergency services) and the City’s residents.
  • Online Forms: The City is working on making various application forms available online with the view of making the interaction with the City easier and more convenient.

What were some of the challenges to roll out?

Success Factors
  • The training of call centre agents and customers was of utmost importance
  • Quick query resolution to meet and even exceed SLA to ensure and boost customer confidence
  • Raising awareness to the solution / service through various marketing campaigns and initiatives - played a significant role –in ensuring uptake and buy-in.
  • The proactive engagement between with the customers by the City through sharing important information and addressing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) and updating these on a regular basis
  • The integration into the core system was pivotal to the success of the platform particularly from a billing, payment and consumption perspectives

Leanings:
  • Training is a very important component, both for the employees of the City and the customers
  • Ease of use is an important element of any customer facing portal
  • Disruptions in service must be kept to a minimum
  • Availability of service: Some customers submit readings and view accounts at very "odd" hours, e.g. 04h00 in the morning, so data must be available from midnight should a schedule state that the cycle opens on a specific date
  • Key stakeholders (business owners) need to be identified and the very beginning of the process
  • As this platform spans different functional areas within the organisation, it is important that the role and effect on the different departments are identified and acknowledged from the onset.
  • As this platform spans different functional areas within the organisation, it is important that the role and effect on the different departments are identified and acknowledged from the onset.
  • Marketing must be focused and campaigns must be repeated
  • It is also imperative that the benefits to the customer are clearly conveyed

Outcomes:
More than 350 000 accounts registered on the service. The clients receives their statements electronically and now even tracks the billing cycles of the City and will complain when their statements are not available within the specified time periods. This also means that customers do not need to visit a Customer Service centre for duplicate statements and the effect is the bills are paid more timeously, traffic to the Customer service centres are reduced and the cost for reprints are dramatically reduced.

Approximately 28 000 meter readings submitted electronically on a monthly basis. This process relieves more than 10 call centre agents at the CoT to attend to other call centre functions. This also means that there are a lot more incorrect statements and estimated consumption on the billing for the City. Customer willingness to pay their bills is therefore increased as they are billed according to the consumption figures they submitted to the City.

Real cost savings for the City as the City of Tshwane has adopted a resolution to disable posted (paper) statements for those registered on e-Tshwane, so no printing and postage costs for more than 350 000 statements every month.