Utility bill management is a service usually provided by a third-party entity that helps a company or organization process, track and review its utility costs. Such a service makes sense when you realize an organization with multiple locations and facilities may receive hundreds or thousands of utility invoices each month for electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, water, sewer, phones, internet, waste removal, and other utility services. An effective utility bill management program can save time and money for companies with a significant number of invoices.
Utility bill management includes the receipt and processing of a company’s utility invoices. Bills are scanned, and data is entered into specific fields within an extensive database that captures every aspect of an organization’s utility costs. The process often includes timely payment of utility bills and may also include an ongoing review for errors and cost-savings opportunities.
4 Benefits of Utility Bill Management
- A centralized database with reporting options helps you better manage your organization. Businesses cannot manage costs they cannot see. Effective utility bill management provides a centralized information platform that accurately records the consumption and cost of your utility services. Businesses can use the information in any number of ways such as tracking costs by facility, division, state or region; producing helpful management reports; and comparing costs or consumption year over year to establish benchmarks for future planning. Such information is critical in planning and forecasting as your organization grows and changes.
- Know what you pay for and avoid unnecessary costs. When a large portion of your organization’s budget goes to utility expenses, it is important to know exactly what you pay for. You may be paying for accounts you no longer use and errors you haven’t found. If your company spans different regions, there may be changes in regulations and tax structures that further complicate charges. Depending on your organization’s internal bill-pay procedures, you might spend a lot in late fees. By having access to billing data, you can easily review utility charges or compare the costs of similar facilities to identify areas that warrant a closer look.
- Experts review and analyze your data. Utility bills can be difficult to understand because they include hundreds of puzzling line items. Utility bill management services that include an ongoing review can be helpful. As part of this service, an analyst validates the accuracy of your billing data and looks for errors and overcharges that may lead to refunds. Careful validation can catch errors such as metering issues, overlapping billing periods, or a bill total that does not match the sum of the individual line items.
- Eliminate headaches. When asked what clients most appreciate about utility bill management services, Allison Levin, vice president at Cost Control Associates, responded, “Our clients like that they no longer have to deal with utility companies! They don’t have to sit on hold or deal with sometimes unhelpful customer service reps. They just hand the whole thing to us, and we resolve their issues.”
How Much Does Utility Bill Management Cost?
Cost is always a concern when considering a third-party service. Business managers can be skeptical about trusting that the cost of the service will outweigh the money they will save.
Keith often develops a business case to assess a client’s return on investment. “Those numbers reassure them that they will quickly recover any costs they invest in setting up and paying for our services.”
Typically costs include an initial set-up fee and a monthly processing fee based on the number of accounts for which invoices are processed. Factors that can affect pricing include the number of accounts, types of utilities, annual spend, the chosen funding mechanism and the desired level of ongoing assistance.
Another factor that companies should anticipate is whether everyone involved is on board with the solution. “The issue of control and conflicting goals may come into play, especially in larger organizations where one department wants to go ahead with the service, but another department feels threatened by outsourcing,” cautions Keith. “We encourage people to look at what utility bill management will do for the company as a whole. No one loses when the entire organization saves money.”
How to Choose a Utility Bill Management Consultant
When looking for a utility bill management consultant, the natural inclination is to think of cost alone. What you really need to consider is that you are about to enter into a long-term relationship, so it’s important to find the right partner. “Find out how many points of contact you will have,” instructs Keith. “We think it is important to give our clients a single point of contact. It helps strengthen the relationship, and you always have a direct line to us without the frustration of figuring out whom to call for what.”
It is also important to look at the experience of the staff that will work on your account. Before you sign, check references. “You can find out a lot about a particular company when you talk to its clients,” assures Keith. “Ask about expected response times for emails and phone calls.
“At Cost Control Associates, our analysts average 14 years of experience in the utility cost management industry, and we respond to client inquiries within 24 hours but usually much faster. These are the kinds of things you want to know.”
Allison Levin is vice president of Cost Control Associates, Inc. She has been with the company 21 years and achieved industry certification as a carbon reduction manager in 2015. She received her MST from SUNY Plattsburgh and her BA in mathematics from Boston University. Learn more.