Supporting CVWD Customers While Managing Overdue Balances During the Pandemic
The Cucamonga Valley Water District (CVWD) is a leading retail water and wastewater services provider servicing approximately 200,000 people in the City of Rancho Cucamonga and portions of Fontana, Ontario, Upland, and unincorporated San Bernardino County. CVWD’s mission of Service Beyond Expectation has remained unwavering during the COVID-19 pandemic as the district continues to provide safe and reliable essential services for the community, despite the financial challenges that have been created for CVWD and its ratepayers.
On April 4, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-42-40, placing a moratorium on the shut-off of water service for customers due to non-payment. Well before Governor Newsom took this action, CVWD proactively responded to the economic impacts of the pandemic by waiving late fees on past due accounts and stopping all disconnections. Like many other water providers throughout California and the nation, CVWD began to see an increase in unpaid water bills and the corresponding loss of revenue, raising concerns about the long-term health and stability of the District’s budget.
Due to the unknown timeline surrounding Governor Newsom’s moratorium and the reality that customers’ outstanding balances would continue to worsen, CVWD recognized the dire need to communicate with its delinquent customers to keep accounts manageable. CVWD’s first effort was to replace standard disconnection notices with COVID-19 delinquency notices, which captured the District’s “We’re in this together spirit.” These COVID-19 delinquency notices were mailed to every delinquent customer and helped encourage communication between CVWD and the account holder. The notices contained status information for the delinquent account as well as a short message asking the customer to contact and work directly with CVWD’s Customer Service Department with a goal of coordinating a payment plan.
CVWD’s next strategy consisted of an Outbound Call Campaign implemented by the Customer Service Team, where Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) were tasked to make outbound calls to delinquent account holders who did not respond to mailed COVID-19 delinquency notices. When contact with the account holder was successful, the CSR would provide personalized assistance and try to resolve the delinquent status of the account. CVWD’s leadership was extremely proactive in offering payment plans or partial payments to allow customers to catch up on their past due balances.
If the CSR team was unable to reach customers by mail or phone, the CVWD Field Service Technicians (FSTs) provided in-person communications through the Door Tag Program (DTAG), which focused on contacting the account holder at their residence. If contact was made with the account holder, the FST identified themselves and provided different options for resolving their delinquent account. If the customer was willing to pay a portion of the past due amount during the DTAG communication, the FST was able to provide multiple options to complete payment. These options included using a PayPal card reader with a chip/tap device, Google or Apple Pay, or personal checks. If the FST was unable to contact the account holder, they placed a door tag notifying of delinquency and encouraging them to contact the CVWD office.
Internally, the DTAG required planning and preparation for both safety and logistics. The FST team was trained in COVID-19 health and safety protocols as well as messaging and conflict resolution strategies to be better equipped when interacting with the customers. They were also trained to use the Paypal reader as well as the more traditional payment receipt book, and were provided with proper PPE and sanitation equipment to safeguard everyone involved in face to face interactions. This process was coordinated with the District’s billing team to apply payments taken in the field, create spreadsheets to record and measure the results of the DTAG program, and identify the most effective strategies in dealing with delinquent accounts.
From August 11, 2020 to December 31, 2020, 1,659 DTAG contacts were made, resulting in 362 payments totaling $118,649 in delinquent revenue. Across the entire delinquency program 717 payments were collected totaling $191,600. Additionally, this process helped outstanding disconnection balances hold steady at $250,000, when they had steadily climbed prior to the implementation of the program. CVWD has concluded that the outreach program has supported its ratepayers during an unprecedented global health crisis by providing them with multiple options and opportunities to voluntarily resolve their delinquent accounts. The District’s concern and compassion for the community has been constant and these efforts have lessened the strain on customers whose balances would have become even more unmanageable once the moratorium is lifted.
As the pandemic continues to profoundly impact both residential and business customers, the District will continue to provide safe and reliable water and wastewater services. Over the last year, CVWD has grown stronger in its adaptability and dedication to serving its community 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This experience was not anticipated nor welcomed, yet it has strengthened the District and its resiliency, preparing it for other challenges in its future. CVWD is thankful for the dedication of its Field and Customer Service teams in providing Service Beyond Expectation to customers and its community through these outreach efforts and payment programs.