Bryan Texas Utilities’ mission is “to give its customers exceptional service with reliable, competitively priced electricity while acting as a responsible and caring member of the community.” And there’s no doubt they have succeeded in doing just this!
BTU’s history is an interesting one. Electricity was sold by a private company from 1889 to 1909, but service was poor – in 1905, for example, the City of Bryan was forced to turn out the street lights because of high electric rates and poor service. This situation resulted in a call by residents for the city to take over the water and electricity systems.
Bryan began assuming control of these services by contract in 1909, and in 1919 the city purchased a power plant to serve the town’s then 768 customers. Today BTU has 47,000 domestic and commercial customers; some customers, however, have multiple meters.
I spoke with John Conner, Elise Wells, Shawndra Green, Chick Herrin and Mike Connor.
John Conner – Business Operations Specialist IV –has been with BTU for seven years. He works in the billing department and handles customer meter readings and billing, as well as adjustments and some customer service balancing.
Elise Wells – Business Operations Specialist IV –has been with BTU for ten years. She works in the billing department with John, handling metering and refund cheques as well as adjustments.
Shawndra Green - Distribution Engineer and Metershop Supervisor, has been with BTU for four years. She studied at Texas A&M University.
Chick Herrin - Operations Supervisor for underground electric distribution, and has been with BTU for 22 years. Prior to that he worked for the Public Service Company of New Mexico.
Mike Connor - Key Accounts Manager who has been at BTU for three years. He has been in the utility industry in various locations for over 20 years.
MANAGING KEY ACCOUNTS
Commercial customers are allocated a key account manager according to their annual revenue status. Mike manages approximately 60 customers and – as with all the other BTU staff – customer satisfaction is his key focus. Commercial customers know that they can rely on their key account managers for all day-to-day queries. Mike says his challenge is balancing the needs of his customers with the needs of the company and providing a ‘happy medium’.
BTU’s service territory covers approximately 800 square miles over three counties; the company also handles billing of water, sewerage and solid waste components. One of the challenges is meeting the huge growth in the area, as many new residential and commercial construction projects continue to take shape.
This growth also becomes a challenge from the metering side – as new customers arrive, new meters have to be installed. It also impacts on billing processes, as there will be more bills to look at and clarify.
All of BTU’s billing is done in-house – each bill is read and checked manually before it is sent out to customers. Some 2,000 to 3,000 bills are printed daily and there are 20 billing cycles. Customers are billed monthly.
Customers can receive their bills electronically; this system has been in place for over five years and more and more customers are moving to e-billing. Although these customers do not receive a paper copy of their bill, the staff still check each one manually – a remarkable achievement!
Regular customers have 27 days from the due date to pay their bill before they are disconnected, which is done by BTU staff visiting the site. A reconnection fee is payable before power is restored. BTU is a university/college town, and their busiest time is at the start and end of the academic year, with students arriving and leaving.
BTU’s meters out in the field are mostly electromechanical, although some are electronic; they all have to be read manually. The main meter suppliers are Itron and Landis+Gyr, but the company stresses they are not tied to a particular vendor or vendors – if a meter meets the specifications, it will be used.
AMR has been investigated, but the company has decided not to introduce the technology at this stage. The interviewees are conscious of the fact that it will be difficult to avoid automation is the future, and see metering going in that direction. Their major concern, though, is the pride they take in satisfying customers, and they are worried that if they go the automation route they will lose that ‘human’ touch.
BTU staff have a tradition of helping out ‘neighbors’, and last year the neighborhood extended beyond their borders. Chick Herrin was part of a crew of six that traveled to San Augustine to assist in restoring power to the town of about 2,500 residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. The crew worked 36 hour shifts, going from street to street stringing up new lines and replacing downed poles.
Chick summed up the vision of them all: “Treat your customers right and take care of them.”