Last year, the Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) introduced a performance-based reform programme into its operations and has since then made tremendous improvement in its customer care efforts, revenue collection and work culture.
The company is currently running another phase of the reform programme in which a greater effort is being made to further reduce non-revenue water.
In agreement with Bill Gates, the GWCL believes that information technology and business have become inextricably interwoven.No one can talk meaningfully about one without the other.
The company is, therefore, introducing into its operations, a Global Positioning System (GPS) technology-based billing and payment platform to afford customers the needed convenience in doing business with the GWCL.
The current system
Currently, the GWCL prepares its customers’ bills by manually keying into its billing system, readings manually recorded by the company’s meter readers.
The bills are then printed out and distributed by the meter readers to the numerous customers of the company; a situation which more often than not results in some customers not receiving their bills at all for many months and, therefore, not being able to pay their bills on time.
Customers who are fortunate enough to receive their bills on time also have to go through the trouble of locating a GWCL payment centre and making a physical trip to the payment centre to join queues in order to pay their bills.
This inconvenience prevents some customers from paying their bills and so they end up having piles of arrears sitting in their accounts, which sometimes forces the GWCL to disconnect water supply to them.
The GWCL has always tried to mitigate this problem by creating more and more payment points and also contracting private collectors and banks for customers to pay their bills conveniently and thereby encourage timely payment of bills. These methods, however, have largely proven to be ineffective thus far.
The management of the GWCL believes the current billing and payment method being employed by the company is not only dated but also inconvenient for both the customer and the GWCL.
It has, therefore, introduced a new system to enable customers to receive on-the-spot bills, as well as have the opportunity to pay their water bills from the comfort of their homes or wherever they may find themselves.
The new system
With the new system, meter readers will go to customers’ premises with hand-held GPS devices which already have customers’ data and manually type in, as well as pictorially capture customers’ consumption data.
Immediately after that, the system will calculate customers’ water consumption and customers will automatically receive SMS messages and e-mails, notifying them of their meter reading, balance and the due date to pay their bills.
The system provides a secure and convenient payment solution to anyone with access to mobile telephony to pay their own water bills or pay on behalf of anyone else from anywhere around the globe, through the use of “Water Scratch Cards or e-vouchers”. This means relatives abroad can conveniently pay water bills for their relatives in Ghana.
If customers fail to pay their bill by the due date, the system will notify them to do so.
It is important to note that the system is compatible with all types of mobile phones and not limited to smart phone users only. However, smart phone users have an added advantage of downloading a GWCL customer application from Google Play Store, through which they can access their water bills, consumption history, bill payment, statement of account and also lodge complaints and report faults to the GWCL without calling the call centre.
Other phone users can also perform these functions by texting their account numbers to a unique GWCL number.
One important feature of the new system is that it is programmed to automatically let the customer to make payments from anywhere and reflect on their accounts in real time, unlike in the old system where payments made could take about three months to reflect when customers pay bills outside their service areas.
This would, therefore, encourage customers to make advance payments against a rainy day. When an advance payment is made, the system records it as savings on the customer’s account.
The payment process
With the new system, a contact number is also provided to GWCL customers for all their payment-related activities with the company. Customers are encouraged to save the number in their address book and use it whenever they need to make payments or any related activity with the company.
Once customers have the payment number, they can buy a GWCL “Water scratch Card”, scratch it and text the scratched pin to the GWCL contact number they have stored earlier in their address book.
Following the payment, customers will receive SMS and e-mail messages, notifying them of the payment they have made and their account balance. The water cards are in GH¢5, GH¢20, GH¢50 and GH¢100 denominations for the convenience of customers.
Paying someone’s water bill
As earlier stated, individuals in Ghana and abroad can make payments on behalf of their friends or family members in Ghana and their accounts will be updated automatically. The payment process is a simple one and is indicated on the scratch cards for customers to follow.
With a mobile telephony penetration rate of 115.64 per cent in Ghana as of end of March this year, the GWCL’s new payment platform promises to be a huge success. The corridors of change, however, are usually an uncomfortable terrain for many and, thus, must be trodden with caution.
GWCL has, therefore, started rolling out the new system on a pilot basis in Tema. The pilot programme, which was launched on June 1, 2016, will eventually be implemented throughout the country upon successful execution.
The management and staff of the GWCL in Tema have begun the programme in earnest, while meter readers have been deployed to take customers’ GPS information and confirm phone numbers to enhance customers’ access to SMS messages.