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:
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?
- Customer expectations have changed rapidly, even in the past 2 years. For example, 64% of American households now have Amazon Prime. Like it or not, Amazon
How do you shift a risk-averse culture to adopt new thinking? In a recent WaterSide Chat, WaterSmart featured three industry leaders who 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.[bctt tweet=”Each leader tackled change by emphasizing the value of forming partnerships externally.” username=”getwatersmart”]
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 … see more
(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, the water utility industry has no equivalent initiative to MultiSpeak. Without a standard, system … see more
(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 … see more
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!
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).[bctt tweet=”Water utilities, on average, have email addresses for only one third of their customers” username=”getwatersmart”]
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:
- Calling the customer directly, though this requires extensive resources and takes time away from other important customer service activities.
- Mailing information with the bill.
- Not communicating at all.
Total Customer Engagement is an amorphous concept that is difficult to define or quantify. Depending on the nature of a given business, engagement may be described using language such as touches, opens, responses, clicks, registrations, reach, shares, influence, views, or other nebulous terms. This language leaves organizations ill-equipped to define and measure the impact and benefits of communicating with customers in a wide-range of situations.
For the water industry in particular, a century of silent service has created an aversion to engaging with customers. Complaints from customers on high bills, boil notices, and service outages created the impression that less engagement with customers was preferable. Now that customers are always connected with digital devices and real-time notifications from nearly every common service provider (electric, mobile phone, internet, cable, etc.), the bar for more interactive and flexible tools has risen dramatically. Given the history of the water industry, it … see more
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 … see more
Over the past several years, WaterSide Chats have evolved into a powerful channel through which WaterSmart communicates to the public. It’s our way of discussing developments in the water industry; we explore innovative technology, new types of thinking, or opportunities for advancement by way of customer service, payment performance, or a utility’s community perception. Our WaterSide Chats have taken many different forms. We’ve gathered industry leaders, water utility veterans, tech wizzes and policy pros, all with the hopes of leaving viewers with that “aha” moment, where a quote or a slide or a statistic may leave them thinking about the value of water and how technologies available today can be an empowering tool for the advancement of resiliency in the industry.
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite WaterSide Chats to reflect on themes that are still relevant. This is an opportunity to dig into innovation and thought leadership occurring … see more
I recently spent two days among colleagues from a broad range of water utilities at an amazing peer-to-peer conference of the California Water Efficiency Partnership (CalWEP). The assembled group discussed water innovation and exhibited many classic traits of high performing teams:
- Commitment to a common mission
- Dedication to their jobs and to the group over long periods (10-30 years)
- Welcoming of new participants
- Diversity across ages, backgrounds and cultures
- Collaborative spirit fostered by natural, non-competitive monopolies
CalWEP’s mission is to drive water innovation and adoption of new technologies. These market transformations will make our state more sustainable in the face of rapidly rising populations and increasing variable water supply. For the past 40 years, CalWEP (and its predecessor organization, the California Urban Water Conservation Council) has enabled California to largely meet its drinking water supply needs through successful adoption of new technologies, practices, and behaviors. The result has been