Guest Column | January 10, 2024

The Key To Restoring Customer Trust After A Data Breach

By Petra Trevino


Public confidence can be hard to win back, emphasizing the need for secure systems as utilities grow more reliant on digital technologies.

Data breaches have become an increasingly prevalent issue for local governments and utilities around the globe. These breaches not only lead to financial losses but also erode public trust — an unfortunate and challenging circumstance my team in San Angelo, TX, faced just a few years ago.

The City of San Angelo Water Utilities department serves a population of more than 100,000 residents. When our previous online payment system left us vulnerable to a data breach, customers and staff alike were impacted; frustrated customers were reluctant to make digital payments after the incident, causing a significant spike in manual workloads for the city. In the aftermath of our data breach, my team determined that we had a critical need for an updated billing and payment system that could provide the highest level of security and reengage residents who had abandoned digital options.

The Challenge

San Angelo’s previous digital payment solution lacked the modern security features needed to properly protect our customers’ sensitive payment data, resulting in a breach and subsequent concerns about online payments. However, even before this lapse in security, there were payment barriers impeding online payment adoption. The lack of modern payment options and the difficult user experience of the city’s legacy payment system regularly increased calls to the office and created a complicated reconciliation process for our staff, draining resources, fueling customer frustration, and ultimately discouraging self-service.

After the data breach — a culmination of years of frustration — my team knew that if we were going to restore customers’ trust, improve internal efficiencies, and prevent breaches from happening in the future, we would need to reevaluate the city’s billing and payment system.

The Solution

It was imperative to revive our customers’ trust in their city’s digital payment system, but it was almost as critical that our new system removed all friction from the payment process and the process of enrolling in self-service options. We knew that addressing these two major concerns would help our key organizational goals — increasing self-service, decreasing call volumes, automating manual processes, improving customers’ satisfaction scores, and more — come to fruition.

Once the San Angelo team implemented a solution that addressed the needs of our customers and was designed to meet our goals, the results were immediately noticeable. AutoPay enrollment has increased by 180%, and overall digital payment adoption has increased by 222%. This swell of adoption has helped reduce payment-related calls by 20% since implementing our new system and has done wonders for improving customers’ relationships. Another critical self-service route, paperless billing, has skyrocketed by 163% since implementation, significantly decreasing the tedious bill printing and mailing process for our team. Today, we’ve eliminated over 15 hours of payment-related work a week.

None of this incredible adoption and the subsequent benefits would be possible without the restoration of trust among our customers. The San Angelo team was able to accomplish this by selecting a billing and payment solution that boasts double encryption and full PCI Level 1 Compliance, ensuring staff and customers never have to worry about the safety of information and payments. Sharing the security credentials of our new system, including its place on Visa’s Global Registry of Service Providers, bolstered trust among our customers in the wake of the city’s data breach, empowering us to encourage the record-breaking levels of digital adoption we have today.

Looking To The Future

The looming threat of cybercrime is only becoming more prevalent for municipalities like the city of San Angelo. For our water utility staff, peace of mind around the sensitive information we handle daily cannot be overstated. The restored sense of trust from our customers is heartening, staff is much more relaxed and able to better address customer needs, and the SaaS (Software as a Service) delivery model of the city’s new payments solution means our system will remain secure, despite how cybercrime evolves in the years to come.

About The Author

In the last seven years serving as the customer service manager for the City of San Angelo’s Water Utilities department, Petra Trevino coordinates and manages daily activities related to customer service in water/utility billing, work order requests, and customers’ accounts. With full oversight of collection accounts relative to water utility services, Petra’s mission is to establish customer service excellence through quality assistance with initiating water services, closing accounts, and addressing billing-related issues.