Thoughts

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

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: high bill surprise

Noticing Water Leaks

March 20, 2018
| By Jeff Lipton

Water leaks happen. In fact, they happen a lot. Data that WaterSmart has collected from over 4 million households indicates that as many as 50% of households will experience some type of water leak within a given year. And more than 10% of households have leaks that waste at least 90 gallons per day. In addition to the frequency that leaks occur, they can be quite expensive. The U.S. insurance industry pays out about $2.5 billion each year in homeowner insurance claims due to water damage from leaks. That’s nearly $7,000 per household which is the number two home insurance claim annually.

Water damage happens for a variety of reasons and some of these causes are unavoidable. Catastrophic weather events that lead to floods or broken pipes and leaky roofs can result in damage that is often expensive to repair. However, most leaks are more mundane and, if not entirely avoidable, easily addressed if caught quickly before extensive
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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 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: customer engagement

Natural Language of Water Customers Interpreted

March 14, 2017
| By Jeff Lipton

Making Sense of Customer Feedback As customers demand greater transparency and data immediacy from their services providers, the ability for water utilities to collect unstructured text data is growing. With modern, digital customer engagement interfaces such as web portals, mobile applications, and social networks, utilities now have a window into more nuanced interests, demands, concerns, and satisfactions expressed by their customers. But with the evolution of systems designed to capture and convey textual information comes a significant challenge: making sense of large volumes of unstructured data.

Unstructured data includes strings of text supplied by customers through open ended self-service forms and other interfaces. Spelling, punctuation, idioms, and grammatical syntax is inconsistent and thus very difficult for computers to parse and interpret. And as the volume of such potentially insightful information grows, it

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Topics: customer support

Public Messaging for Rate Increases

August 16, 2016
| By Peter Yolles

Water utilities are having a hard time getting public support for increasing investment in their infrastructure — a crucial need that underpins the viability and resilience of our cities and suburban communities. More than 250 million Americans are at risk of losing the reliability and safety of their municipal water utilities as these systems reach the end of their useful life. People yell and scream at their elected leaders about rate increases even as they face the warning signs of broken water mains and episodes of contaminated supplies. How can utilities leverage public messaging to generate more support for their mission? How can utilities neutralize complaints and win over their customers to support the necessary improvements in our water systems?

A new whitepaper from Hahn Public Research sheds light on this subject. Research indicate that utilities should design their public messages to focus more on the benefits and

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