In the December 2018 issue of the AWWA Journal, water utilities that communicate with their customers about broader water issues scored higher in customer satisfaction scores. This was an outcome reflected by the 2018 J.D. Power and Associates survey conducted in water utilities across the country. Based on their survey findings, water conservation and effective crisis communication efforts were two areas that earned water utilities higher customer satisfaction scores. When customers were aware of the water department’s conservation program, satisfaction scores increased by over 25%. The top-ranked utilities in the country had effective communication plans promoting increased customer engagement.
Feeling a little uneasy about where you stand? Your situation isn’t bleak, it’s ripe with room for improvement. Here are some ways you can use these survey results to adapt, adjust, and adopt a more customer-centric focus that customers can appreciate.
Conservation Through Your Customer’s Eyes
Conservation programs serve an economic benefit to communities far greater than the benefits of simply turning the water off when brushing your teeth. Conserving today can reduce demands on source water supplies as cities grow and develop delaying the need for costly new infrastructure projects. These projects translate into costs that, if avoided, represent far more impressive savings to customers than the few dollars difference they might (won’t) notice from simply conserving water at home.
Conservation program marketing should highlight how these programs benefit your customers. Avoid focusing on the cost benefits tied to conservation. Depending on your rate structure, there may be no cost benefit to conservation. Focusing on nominal or non-existent savings can even create a negative stance towards conservation. Highlight the impacts and savings that your customers care most about.
Effective Communication in a Crisis Can Save the Day
Delivery and price were the two factors that ranked as the highest factors in driving customer satisfaction scores. Let empathy lead your communication strategy and really put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What happens when there is a service outage? Are people notified, and if so, how? Are they left guessing how long the water will be shut off? How valuable would that information be to parents of young children or elderly customers? It’s not your fault the outdated main broke. It’s not your fault it broke on the same morning someone has to shower for a huge job interview. Your responsibility is to fix the problem, but in today’s world that includes sharing information. You don’t need to promise the sun, moon, and stars but whatever information you do have should be disseminated to your customers so they can plan their lives around this brief inconvenience.
Put a system in place to communicate with customers during service outages. Communicate clearly and broadly how this information is disseminated so when people come looking for information, they don’t get frustrated or get sent on a wild goose chase.
Don’t create communication strategies in a vacuum. Engage with your field operations folks. Make sure whatever system is put into place has their buy-in and was created with their input and feedback. If you make the process too cumbersome it won’t be adopted. Use technology to automate whenever you can so they can focus on restoring service.
Fair or unfair, water is judged against the other utilities’ customers deal with on a daily basis. While the comparison may seem apples to oranges, the truth remains. The water industry does have room for improvement. Conservation and effective crisis communication can serve as the low hanging fruit water utilities can use to gain an edge in customer satisfaction.