For most Americans, owning a mobile phone isn’t a want or a need, but rather a must. According to Pew Research, over 95% of Americans own a mobile phone, two thirds being a smartphone. In fact, even Pew has strayed from landline surveys and now targets mobile outreach. Communication happens on those 5” touch screens more and more frequently, with no signs of slowing down.
Water utilities are already recognizing the importance of being able to communicate with their customers via mobile phone, though many struggle to obtain these numbers. A recent finding by the WaterSmart Software development team discovered that many water utilities don’t realize the volume of mobile phone numbers they already store. While testing the phone number validation tool, a feature of our Group Messenger Module, the team ran a trial on a current utility customer’s database, expecting to find 25-30% of the contact numbers to be mobile. Instead, the tool identified over 50% as mobile. This is not a unique occurrence. We discovered that across our 60+ utility customers, an average of 50% of the numbers in their database are mobile, even if the utilities didn’t realize they were holding that many mobile numbers.
This is partly due to legacy utility database design. The old paradigm had home phone and mobile phone as separate fields in a database. But that was before the number of mobile devices surpassed the number of landline phones. Today, nearly everyone has a mobile phone and often enter it as their primary or home phone number. How many times have you signed up for a service that asks for your home phone number and you entered your mobile phone? This explains why the notion persists among some utilities that they don’t have the means of digitally interacting with their customers because they don’t think they have mobile contact information.
A better practice is to enter a primary number and then validate whether or not it can accept text messages. This is what WaterSmart does with our phone number validation tool, which checks all of a utility’s phone numbers, both those that the utility has provided and those that we have collected from their customers, and validates the numbers based on their ability to accept a text message.
Using the number validation tool, utilities can engage with customers and communicate any service-related issues through a simple text message. Validating phone numbers is worthwhile. Utilities will will typically either avoid sending text messages to large groups of their customers because they don't know which numbers accept text messages, or they will attempt to text every number and get a number of bouncebacks from landlines. Validation solves both these issues. While it’s generally best practice to only text or call customers who have opted in to receiving text messages, utilities can send urgent service-related notifications (leaks, outages) via text or voice to customers who have not opted in, all while maintaining compliance with FCC regulations.
For many utilities, some of the most valuable customer communication data is within sight, but just out of reach. Phone number validation can unlock new channels for utilities to communicate with their customers digitally and reduce their cost to serve, using customer data they already have.