United Utilities has taken on 80 staff to help update and improve meter reading services for millions of its water customers.
It is the first time the firm has employed meter readers direct for around 20 years.
The new staff, who previously did the work as part of an out-sourced contract, joined the company on December 1 and will hit the streets from Crewe to Carlisle within days.
United Utilities Michelle Atkinson, who has overseen the transition, said, as well as securing jobs in the North West, the aim was to be able to respond better and faster to the different needs of customers.
“We’ve been looking at what other utility companies, particularly the energy companies, have been doing with their meter reading services and wanted to give our customers the same sort of flexibility and great service. Digital online services weren’t around 20 years ago, and there are lots of ways we can use those services now to give customers a much better experience,” she said.
Rather than a one-size-fits-all, United Utilities is designing its new service to be more responsive to people’s needs.
“For instance, customers will be able to submit their own readings online if they miss the meter reader or if they don’t want a meter reader to visit, we can also give more timely meter reads when people move house, and we’ll be looking to change the frequency of meter reading according to people’s circumstances. As well as giving customers more control, we can spot unexpectedly high water usage faster before it becomes a bill shock, and we can step in earlier to offer affordable payment options if we think people might benefit.”
One new development the new team will be trialling is the increased use of automated meter reading (AMR), which is an area where United Utilities is already an industry leader. At the moment, AMR is only available in 24 areas where United Utilities has an agreement with councils to fit devices into bin lorries which take readings on the way past customers’ homes.
From December, every one of the new employees’ vans has also been AMR-enabled, meaning automatic readings could be extended into a much larger area, for instance Cumbria.
As well as the new staff and equipment, United Utilities has also invested in new systems and trained its 700 contact centre staff in using them. Data from the North West’s 1.6 million water meters has had to be migrated and AMR equipment in hundreds of bin lorries updated.
“It’s been a huge project, involving a lot of people inside and outside United Utilities, so to get it all done on time has been a fantastic effort. I’m sure we’ll be able to move quickly and start giving our customers even better service,” added Michelle.