Historically, water utilities have viewed their customers as addresses – not people. The utility’s job was to deliver safe, reliable drinking water 24/7 and the role of the customer was simply to pay the bill for the delivery of that water.
We’re now in the digital age, and things are undoubtedly changing. Utilities are facing tough challenges like decreasing revenue and structural conservation. They now need more from their customers than just monthly payments.
Sometimes those needs are simple (like certain people irrigating on certain days), but sometimes they’re critical (like building a new pipeline to serve the community, or the recent situation in Austin, TX – more on this later). Either way, suddenly utilities need their customers to help them run a better utility, and the relationship up until this point has been nothing more than here’s a service, send money. Complicating the utility/customer relationship dynamic is the fact that water bills are increasing across the US – and they’re increasing fast. So, more and more utilities are finding themselves in a predicament where they have no engagement, disgruntled customers, no trust, yet they need their customers’ help more than ever.
It’s clear that engaging customers makes good business sense, but how do you do it?
- Deliver more than just water – deliver timely information. Utilities today have a responsibility to deliver granular information to their customers. Hourly AMI meter reads are a great start to make your customers aware of when and how they’re using water. Once customers understand their consumption, they can easily see how it impacts their wallets.
- Make it easy for customers to access their data and act on it. Show them how their usage changes over time, and how they compare to similar households. Flag when their consumption patterns change, and when continuous water flow is detected. Alerts and alarms proactively build trust.
- Modernize your billing practices. Paying a water bill should be easy with multiple ways to pay, reminders to pay, and affordability programs to help customers pay. Ensuring ease, flexibility, and excellent customer service, especially around billing, helps to build these critical relationships with utility customers.
Let’s talk about recent events in Austin, TX. Water customers were placed under a boil water order because the city couldn’t produce enough water to serve the population as a result of all the recent rain and dirty water in the rivers. The city found itself in an emergency situation where it had to get out communications asap to protect the health and safety of its customers. Austin wasn’t able to produce enough water, so they needed customers to conserve – and conserve rapidly – or the water would run out. It’s an extreme example of needing customers, but it’s a real scenario, and it underscores the importance of proactively building the infrastructure and relationships you’re going to need.
When customers are engaged, and they can easily understand “the why” that’s driving “the ask,” they’re more apt to respond and help you run a better utility.
Engaging customers, especially in light of increasing bills isn’t easy. It takes dedication and it takes time. Want to get started, but need some guidance? Reach out to us! We’re happy to help.