Thoughts

A place for education, information, and insights about the water industry.

Seth Engel

Topics: communications

Watershed Moments: A framework for maximizing utility-customer interactions

March 27, 2018
| By Seth Engel

How much time do customers spend thinking about their water utility? According to consulting company Accenture’s consumer survey, if they are anything like the average customer, it’s around 8 minutes a year.

Most people just don’t spend that much time thinking about their water. How, then, can water utilities break through with a message that their customers will receive? By taking a page out of the marketer’s playbook and focusing on the customer journey, water utilities can maximize their interactions with their customers.

Years ago, smart marketers had the insight that marketing had become too disruptive to consumers. Consumers were being bombarded with message after message without regard to who they were or what stage of the buyer’s journey they were in. As a result, consumers tuned out these messages and the marketing was not impactful. Smart marketers began thinking harder about the messages they were putting out to

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Topics: Research

Utility Service Requests Done Right

March 6, 2018
| By Seth Engel

Can you remember the last time you had to start or terminate your utility service? How difficult was the process? Anecdotally, having looked at scores of utility websites over the past few years, we can tell you that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way most utilities onboard, off-board, and generally manage customer interactions online. Many of them look a lot like this:

Typical start service experience

 

Utility consultant West Monroe Partners analyzed this issue a few years ago via a proprietary Customer Effort Index (CEI). They found that for the lowest-performing utility websites:

“Key tasks, such as a start/stop service online wizard was not available through the customer portal and users were required to call into the customer rep to enable/disable service.”

Why is this important?

  1. Customer expectations have changed rapidly, even in the past 2 years. For example, 64% of American households now have Amazon
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Topics: customer engagement

Cutting edge customer engagement through the mail?!

November 30, 2017
| By Seth Engel

Everything old is new again. Vinyl records are making a comeback, 80’s horror flick/pop culture tribute ‘Stranger Things’ is the number 1 show on Netflix, and snail mail is the hot new way for utilities to communicate with their customers.

Don’t believe it? Consider this: water utilities, on average, have email addresses for only one third of their customers (although as we demonstrated in a recent blog post, they probably have their mobile phone number).

But what about the two-thirds of customers that utilities can’t reach via email? Without being able to send timely emails, utilities have three options for communicating with their customers:

  1. Calling the customer directly, though this requires extensive resources and takes time away from other important customer service activities.
  2. Mailing information with the bill.
  3. Not communicating at all.

As much as we talk about digital communications, print remains a relevant, if not

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Topics: customer satisfaction

3 Ways Water Utilities Can Increase Customer Satisfaction

May 23, 2017
| By Seth Engel

Over the next 20 years, the U.S. water utility industry needs to make trillion dollar infrastructure investments to maintain the service reliability and quality that citizens have come to expect. These investments will ultimately be financed and paid for by ratepayers, which presents a new challenge for water utilities trying to increase customer satisfaction and build support for these massive investments. The most successful water utilities recognize that asking customers to pay for large-scale investments is much easier when ratepayers understand and value the services they receive. Fortunately, there are proven, cost-effective solutions that water utilities can deploy to begin to build support immediately.

  1. Embrace multi-channel customer engagement

According to the Pew Center, 77% of Americans own a smartphone and 86% of Americans are on social media. We have rapidly become a mobile-first, digital society. In fact, over one

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Topics: CAPs

Rethinking Disadvantaged Community Engagement

September 27, 2016
| By Seth Engel

Water utilities spend a disproportionate amount of time engaging with disadvantaged communities, often to address delinquent or unpaid bills and service disconnections that leave everyone worse off. If a utility is using a shutoff notice as an engagement tool, they are doing it wrong. There are better ways, like implementing customer assistance programs (CAP) to prevent shutoffs in the first place.

Preexisting notions about disadvantaged customers being out of reach of digital communications methods are, in fact, incorrect. According to the Pew Research Center, over 50 percent of low-income households own a smartphone. Smartphone penetration in this demographic creates substantial opportunities for utilities to reach disadvantaged communities with software solutions like customer self-service platforms and targeted digital communications.

How software providers can help

The following framework is inspired by the EPA’s framework

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Topics: crisis

Three Lessons That Every Utility Can Learn From Flint, Michigan

January 22, 2016
| By Seth Engel

A Front Page Nightmare It is every water utility manager’s worst nightmare: your town made the front page of the national news because of contaminated drinking water. That’s the situation that Flint, Michigan is in right now. Virtually all of the city’s 100,000 people have been exposed to lead poisoning and other contaminants from corroded distribution pipes.

The water crisis in Flint originated in 2014 when, in an attempt to save money, it made the decision to switch its source of drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This new water source, while less expensive to procure, was more corrosive to the pipes and leached lead into the distribution system. Now some or all of the distribution system may need to be replaced, which could cost the nearly bankrupt city as much as $1.5 billion.

Lessons Learned So what can the situation in Flint teach water utilities about establishing and maintaining trust with their customers,

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