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New Customer Information System (NCIS)

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City of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU)

Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) launched a new customer information system (NCIS) to update their billing processes. With this new system, customers experienced a few changes, most notably a new account number. Additionally, a policy change on late fees replaced the flat fee with a percentage fee.

PRR worked on behalf of City Light and SPU to ensure that all populations understood the changes. PRR’s plan took the pro-equity approach of centering the experience of people in historically underserved communities who might have more difficulty navigating billing changes including people with limited-English proficiency, people of color, people with disabilities, and seniors. While the changes appeared simple to many people experienced in bill paying, navigating the process becomes more difficult when the resident has limited English language and literacy skills, digital technology skills and access, banking skills (or is unbanked), or is unlikely to ask questions directly to government agencies (perhaps based on past experiences in the U.S. or another country).

 

father and son smiling

 

PRR developed a draft communications plan, which proposed strategies and tactics for reaching these communities. We know that the same approaches do not work for every community. To ensure our ideas were the most helpful for the specific audiences we wanted to reach, and to get buy-in, PRR conducted two outreach meetings and multiple follow-up interviews.

The first meeting brought together people working in the public sector, including Public Health-Seattle & King County, Seattle Housing Authority, King County 2-1-1, Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, and others. This group shared concerns about how the billing changes would affect historically underserved populations and provided advice on how best to engage community-based organizations (CBOs).

 

focus group sits around a table in a conference room

 

The second meeting brought together individuals working at CBOs in Seattle, including Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association, Asian Counseling and Referral Services, Solid Ground, Somali Community Services, and others. This group provided feedback on how best to directly engage the historically underserved populations likely to be most affected by the billing changes so they could navigate the changes successfully.

We heard a great many ideas, not all of which would be possible or advisable to implement. PRR synthesized the common themes, analyzed the cost and practicality of implementing, identified staff or community partners skilled in these activities, recommended key strategies, and worked with SPU and City Light to create a plan and implement it.

PRR worked with community partners to:

  • Present about NCIS changes to CBOs that served the most vulnerable customer groups
  • Share information about SPU and City Light utility discount programs with community partners who work with eligible customers
  • Translate public information material and distribute it to key locations throughout the city
  • Create videos explaining the changes using voiceover narration from community partners in eight key languages
  • Train multi-lingual community members who then presented to eight key service providers across the city

 

 

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