WaterSmart is a software-as-a-service (Saas) company and a vendor to over 50 water utilities. As a company that employs a lean and mighty team of 40, we also make use of dozens of software providers to help us build our product, run our sales & marketing, and take care of our employees. Often we are able to learn a lot from our vendors – we take particular note when we experience a seamless onboarding processes, smart pricing plans, or great user interfaces. A recent customer service experience with a vendor was also a learning experience – mostly in what not to do.
WaterSmart is nearing the size at which we could save money by switching to a different health benefit and payroll structure. We’ve been pretty happy with our current provider, but it is a good practice to regularly evaluate other options as we grow. In considering other vendors, only … see more
My neighbors and I received an attention-catching letter this summer about our water rates. Because we’ve done such a great job at conserving water in the past year, our water rates are going up – a lot.
California continues to experience an historic drought and last year, for the first time in history, Governor Brown mandated cities to reduce their water consumption by 25%. We all had to do our part by curtailing outdoor use of water, taking shorter showers and letting cars go with less frequent washings.
All of these actions were very successful. Cities across the state essentially achieved the 25% reduction goal according to the State Water Resources Control Board’s recent report. Ironically, at the same time many communities in the state have seen their water rates increase despite the reduction in water use. At Stanford, for example, our rates just increased 29% even as we reduced … see more
Water utilities spend a disproportionate amount of time engaging with disadvantaged communities, often to address delinquent or unpaid bills and service disconnections that leave everyone worse off. If a utility is using a shutoff notice as an engagement tool, they are doing it wrong. There are better ways, like implementing customer assistance programs (CAP) to prevent shutoffs in the first place.
Preexisting notions about disadvantaged customers being out of reach of digital communications methods are, in fact, incorrect. According to the Pew Research Center, over 50 percent of low-income households own a smartphone. Smartphone penetration in this demographic creates substantial opportunities for utilities to reach disadvantaged communities with software solutions like customer self-service platforms and targeted digital communications.
The following framework is inspired by the EPA’s framework for implementing customer assistance programs. Customer self-service software can help utilities engage effectively with disadvantaged communities. … see more
As water industry observers recognize, utilities have historically considered themselves silent providers of service. In the past, customers would only choose to communicate with their utility in the case of frustration or dissatisfaction: A high bill; water quality concerns; a service outage. Thus utilities would often measure customer satisfaction by a lack of interaction with their ratepayers.
Consequently, and unsurprisingly, utilities have minimized communication with stakeholders on the theory that it is better not to attract too much attention. In the relatively infrequent cases when they have chosen to communicate, they generally use one of two modes:
- Pure broadcast: Blanket communications, using a single set of content for every message sent. Think billboards, bill stuffers, door hangers, static web pages, and, more recently, social media channels such as Facebook or Twitter. These approaches are undirected and largely ineffective, except in huge quantities. In marketing or sales parlance this approach is
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 features customers … see more
Water utilities are responsible for one thing above all: supplying safe drinking water to their populations on a daily basis. In light of the recent public health crisis in Flint, MI, utilities have never been under more pressure from the public to perform this service. Simultaneously, factors such as unpredictable weather patterns, population growth and urbanization, and aging infrastructure are all working together to increase that pressure. In the face of these challenges – and with a finite supply of water — business as usual won’t do. Water utilities must find ways to innovate and evolve to meet future generations’ water needs.
So how can water utilities adjust to serve the population of the future while maintaining reliable, safe water delivery?
In more than 24 years as the CEO of the El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board, I learned that the key to water utility operations is simple: do … see more
Water and Wastewater utilities receive “credit ratings” just as a private individual has a FICO® score. While organizations like the Fair Isaac Corporation calculate personal credit scores, for entities like local government utilities, the three groups that generate credit ratings are Fitch Ratings, Moody’s, and Standard and Poor’s (S&P). For the utility, a higher rating means better access to credit, and at more favorable terms. S&P published the criteria it used for “Water, Sewer, And Drainage Utility Revenue Bonds” in 2008. To say that things have changed with the economy since 2008 is an understatement! In 2014 S&P solicited comments on its re-worked methods and assumptions for calculating these credit ratings. The new criteria will result in credit rating changes to 1 in 4 utilities (of the 1,600 utilities that S&P rates). Some ratings will go down. How can your utility be among the 200 that will have a higher … see more
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need,”
– Rolling Stones (1969, Let It Bleed album)
The recent California drought has many lessons for water managers and policy-makers regarding drought management. Perhaps the greatest lesson is on the possibility of economic resilience when water is well managed.
For the last few years, California essentially lost about 33% of its normal water supply due to drought. Yet in spite of often several local impacts, the state overall saw an undetectable loss of jobs and economic production. During this period, agricultural production, about 2% of California’s economy, saw net revenues reduced by 3% along with the loss of 10,000 jobs in the face of leaving over 6,000 acres of irrigable farm land fallow. Yet, high commodity prices and continued shifts to higher valued crops (such as almonds, with more … see more
Water utilities are increasingly evaluating new metering technologies to reduce non-revenue water, drive down operational costs of data collection, and gain greater visibility into meter asset health. From the utility’s perspective these are all sound business reasons for making what is often a substantial investment in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
But how do these investments help the residential customer? Are water prices reduced as a result of these utility cost reductions? Unfortunately not. Utilities have to recover the cost of these hardware investments and many districts are not generating sufficient revenue to cover their basic operational expenses, let alone enough to make long-term investments in new capital projects.
One of the other key benefits of AMI investments that utilities and meter vendors tout are improved levels of customer engagement. Real-time interval data from water meters provides greater visibility into water consumption patterns. This data stream allows utilities to identify … see more
The California drought has grabbed America’s attention, but our water problems — and the coming scarcity — stem from a lot more than a few years of diminished rain and snow. The U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council predicts that, in less than 10 years, many large countries will be at risk of “state failure,” directly due to the global water crisis.
To explain what caused this problem, check out this infographic.
The causes of the water crisis are global, as are its effects, which will only become more commonplace for Americans. It affects everyone from farms in the American Great Plains to crowded cities in South Africa. Even now, much of the western United States is already at tipping point, as we saw in 2015 with the water crisis in California.