Imagine H2O and the Water Environment Federation have dubbed March 18-21, 2019 as Water Innovation Week. What does it mean to be innovative in the water industry? Is it new smart water solutions? Is it new funding mechanisms? As purveyors of the world’s most precious resource, all innovation in the water sector has but one end—to best serve the end user, the customer. Innovation, while it adds to the value proposition, only matters to the point that customers care. Why? Customers hold the purse strings required for needed capital improvement projects or funding for new technology adoption. The opportunity cost of making customers a second thought is substantial. Lack of public buy-in can result in costly project delays, failed funding requests, and the quicksand of negative public relations incidents.
What if we could use technology such as AMI to build favor with our customers by adding value to their day-to-day? What if we saw our interactions with customers in a new light? “At the heart (of innovation) is a decision to look at the world through a different prism,” explains Tom Ferguson, vice president of programming at Imagine H2O. What if our customers became the prism through which we approach innovation? Customer service and collaboration are two ways we can enhance the customer experience. Customer service takes a direct approach, while the indirect benefits of collaboration ultimately trickle down to the end user.
In the simplest marketing terms, a company or brand exists to satisfy some need of the intended audience. How well a brand meets this need determines brand loyalty. In a world where, in most case, customers don’t have a choice in their water provider what incentive do water providers have to add value to the equation. In water, customer service drives the value proposition of the water utility. The majority of services provided by the utility are out of sight out of mind. However, customer service is the aspect that directly impacts the customer experience.
What experience are you providing your customers? Can they solve small issues on their own? Is information easy to find? Are they communicated with regularly? Do they have access to information that allows them to make more informed decisions about their water use? The combination of AMI infrastructure, data, and customer accessibility via a customer portal dramatically shifts the way customers view their water utility. When customers are the prism through which you approach innovation, AMI becomes less about infrastructure and more about adding value to the customer experience. Treating the value exchange between the utility and the customer as if customers had a choice demonstrates that customer needs are a priority.
While pairing AMI with a customer portal is a direct win for customers, collaborating with technology behind the scenes yields benefits that also trickle down to the customer. One area we’ve seen this is with analytics software that gleans insights from the extensive data that comes from data-heavy technology like AMI. In an article in the February AWWA Journal titled, Detecting and Resolving Apparent Loss with Data Science, it discusses a water utility that partnered with an analytics company to identify and reduce water loss issues. Taking a proactive approach can empower water managers to more effectively impact areas systemwide including resource recovery, water demand, planning capital improvement projects, and better customer care.
This case study demonstrated the critical role AMI plays in these kinds of collaboration. These collaborations can save utility’s revenue by optimizing meter management and upgrade programs. Effective data management is rooted in quality, not quantity. Pairing data with analytics generate data sets that are more productive and result in legitimate savings.
How’s the View?
Whether it’s enhancing the value exchange between the utility and the customer through a customer portal or using analytics to pinpoint apparent losses that could save the utility substantial revenue, tweaking your vantage point even slightly could result in the breakthrough that brings your organization into a more resilient future.
The water sector is ripe with new technologies, that when paired with AMI technology become a powerful tool. Shifting mindsets away from the “way we’ve always done things” creates opportunities for innovation through collaboration. Keeping the end user, your customer, as the lens through which you approach innovation conveys the message that your customers are your priority. Customers that feel valued by your organization, your product, and your services create a trifecta of trust. This trust yields the public buy-in necessary to foster a culture of innovation. That’s an exciting outlook worth working towards.