The top priority of our members is making every drop – and every customer – count.
In what seems like the blink of an eye and a few turns of a wrist, clean and safe water is there; ready to be used for your morning shower or late night cup of tea, not to mention the fire hydrant on the street. The 73 million Americans served by our members rely on private water companies to take care of essential water infrastructure, protect the environment and provide 24-hour service to help ensure a reliable supply of quality water and efficient treatment of wastewater.
If there is a main break in the middle of the night, our members are often the first on the scene and prepared to resolve the issue. And if a customer calls with a question or concern about the quality of their water, we listen to get all the facts so we can handle it fast, but more importantly, handle it right. Because even though most businesses provide some type of value to their customers, no other utility service is as vital to daily life and community well-being as reliable water service.
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Is it possible to significantly improve customer satisfaction while also reducing operating costs? In 2009, Aqua America proved that it is.
With an average of 1.4 million customer phone calls coming into three call centers, they examined the usefulness of their Interactive Voice Response system (IVR), the technological call-handling agent that routes calls including emergencies to the appropriate service departments.
The company formed an IVR development team consisting of call center employees and quality assurance and technology consultants. Using customer feedback and utility best practices, the team developed a benchmark of the old system, and after a series of timed A/B tests (essentially allowing half of the in-bound calls to hear the old version, and the other half to experience the revised version) they had the empirical comparison data they needed to make the assumed remedies final.
After they completed the rebuild of their call center IVR, Aqua America noted an increased use of the new customer self-service option, a change in customer satisfaction levels from 49 percent to 75 percent, and reduced operating and maintenance costs totaling a combined savings of $136,000 per year. Customers got the answers they needed when they needed them; in fact, customers spent 21 percent less time in the call system before making their selections and getting to a friendly service representative.
Private water companies, like many other types of businesses, are also in the customer service business. Critical to providing high-quality service is honest feedback from those they serve.
Connecticut Water, headquartered in Clinton, CT, has spent more than 20 years using the services of an independent research firm to gauge customer satisfaction with the company and its call center operations and field services, as well as to solicit feedback on new initiatives. Throughout the course of a year, 1,200 randomly selected customers are asked 37 core questions, the answers to which are used to calculate what is called a Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI).
Connecticut Water's CSI is a critical measure that impacts business operations and employee performance. As Connecticut Water CEO Eric Thornburg sees it, customer satisfaction is everyone's responsibility. He rewards employees if they achieve a CSI greater than 85 percent and uses it as a metric to determine job performance. As proof of the influence of customer feedback, the first CSI rating was in the mid-60s and today typically measures at an outstanding 90 percent.
York Water Company
As one of America's oldest private water companies still thriving today, the York Water Company has been providing value through customer service for nearly 200 years. Although it's our oldest company member, the company continues to evolve to assist its customers through technological advances such as the introduction of a new electronic billing system. Of course, they still provide the same personal touch that customers have come to expect.
Compared to all other Pennsylvania water utilities, York Water Company scores a below average complaint rate (per 1,000 customers). The company attributes this exceptional rating to the fact that customers can speak to friendly customer service representatives and/or walk in to the company's historic downtown office for one-on-one customer support. And for every customer who likes old-fashioned, face-to-face interaction with their water utility, there's another who prefers to pay their water bills online, opting out of receiving paper bills. For that reason, York Water Company launched its "green" electronic billing initiative in 2010.
York Water Company President and CEO Jeff Hines says the company will continue to anticipate community growth and customer needs so that wherever and whenever "that good York water" is needed, it will be available in plentiful supply.
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