Thoughts

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

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 Stories

Changing a Risk-Averse Culture

February 6, 2018
| By Ella Kobelt

How do you shift a risk-averse culture to adopt new thinking? In a recent WaterSide Chat, WaterSmart featured three industry leaderswho have earned reputations for being innovators in the water industry: Patricia Mulroy, Ed Archuleta, and George Hawkins. While they ran very different utilities facing their own unique challenges, each leader tackled change and attributed their achievements to collaborative management approaches internally, while emphasizing the value of forming partnerships externally.

When Hawkins first started with DC Water (he recently retired as General Manager and CEO), the organization faced low customer satisfaction and virtually no stakeholder support. He recognized the importance of communication between customers, staff, engineers, and local politicians. Hawkins set out to change company communications and took on his employees’ priorities as his own. As Hawkins put it, “they had to understand, change

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Topics: Editorial

Water Meter Data Management - To Sink or SWIM (Part 2)

January 16, 2018
| By Jeff Lipton

(In part 2 of this post we review additional benefits and challenges of an MDM and what ideal technology solution best suits water industry needs):

Benefit and Challenge 2: Interoperability Electric utilities have a large number of data systems (as many as 12+) that require metering information. Getting access to all this data is no small feat (see diagram below).

The National Rural Electric Coop Association (catering to utilities under 300k endpoints) has developed a standard for meter data system interoperability known as MultiSpeak. From the MultiSpeak About page:

The MultiSpeak Specification is a key industry-wide standard for realizing the potential of enterprise application interoperability. The MultiSpeak Specification is the most widely applied de facto standard in North America pertaining to distribution utilities and all portions of vertically-integrated utilities except generation and power marketing.

Unfortunately,

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Topics: Editorial

Water Meter Data Management - To Sink or SWIM (Part 1)

January 9, 2018
| By Jeff Lipton

(In part 1 of this two part post, we look at the history of meter data management systems and how they apply to the water industry):

Water Meter Data Management: To sink or SWIM? The role of a Meter Data Management System (MDMS) is not well defined within the water industry. Many products on the market claim to provide MDM functionality, but few people understand the value of what these systems offer. To understand how this confusion has come about and what can be done to address data management needs in the water industry, we need to first examine the evolution of the MDM.

A Brief History of the MDMS In the late 1990’s, the electric industry pioneered the concept of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), recognizing a need for more frequent and accurate meter data. However, this emerging meter information occasionally delivered anomalistic or missing data, and an MDMS was designed to manage and clean the incoming flood of data.

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Topics: Did you know?

WaterSmart 2017 Year in Review

December 19, 2017
| By Kelly Coplin
2017 has been a big year at WaterSmart!  Over the past 12 months we expanded  our   customer engagement platform  to provide automated communication management  for  utilities’ most time-intensive  topics - leaks, high bills, and emergency notifications. We also extended our reach into utility bill presentment and electronic billing. Taken as a whole, these new product  capabilities   drive efficiencies and data transparency across the  entire  utility organization.

Here are some highlights of our product releases over the past 12 months.  We'll continue to build upon this momentum to reduce the cost to serve utility customers, protect utility revenue, and improve customer satisfaction in 2018!

Cutting Edge Text and Voice Communications

In 2017 we expanded  Group Messenger , our automated customer messaging  system , to include text and voice communication channels. Because many utilities have more phone numbers on file
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Topics: Did you know?

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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