WaterEUM — Effective Utility Management

Ten Attributes -

Customer Satisfaction

Provides reliable, responsive, and affordable services in line with explicit, customer-accepted service levels. Receives timely customer feedback to maintain responsiveness to customer needs and emergencies..

Link to Example Measures 

Resources:

Affordability of Wastewater Service
As wastewater and water utility rates continue to increase faster than the inflation rate, ratepayers are increasingly saying that their bills are unaffordable. With that in mind, this publication provides an overview of the problem of affordability and offers some specific considerations that elected officials, utility managers, and utility staff might take into account when addressing affordability issues in their communities. In addition to tackling issues of how to define and measure affordability, who might be the primary targets for an assistance program, and what features might be included, Affordability of Wastewater Service offers case studies from communities that have been leaders in implementing innovative affordability programs. (80 pages, 2007) $$ Order Now 

APWA Public Works Institute Learning Model
The Public Works Institute is a national learning model specifically developed for APWA chapter use. The model was developed by reviewing APWA's needs assessment, core competencies for public works supervisors and leaders, and input from the Presidential Task Force and chapters currently using management training programs. It consists of 10 core topic areas with 60 individual course topics. (2006) $$ Order Now 

Avoiding Rate Shock: Making the Case for Water Rates
Communicating the true value of water can act as a shock absorber when utilities must raise rates, according to this study sponsored by the AWWA Water Utility Council. This comprehensive study found that consumers get upset over rate increases because of a misunderstanding about the true value of a safe, adequate supply of water. The report, funded by the AWWA Water Industry Technical Action Fund, resulted from the need in many cities to replace aging infrastructure and the necessity of sharing the cost burden with water utility customers. Drawing on extensive research, case studies, and in-depth interviews, the report lists four key findings:

  • People undervalue water, making it more difficult for them to accept rate increases

  • A consistent, structured communications strategy builds the credibility necessary to support the customer-utility relationship and rate increases

  • It's never too late to start doing the right thing; think long-term and plan beyond the current crisis

  • Billing practices and rate structure options can affect customer reactions and acceptance of rate increases

Each finding is followed by several recommendations to help utilities know their customers and deliver clear messages relating the benefits of water service, increased costs. It also includes tips on how, when, and where to communicate rate increases, plus a comprehensive plan to explain and implement rate increases, and outreach programs regarding billing and payment options. 2004 - Softbound - 131 pp. ISBN 1-58321-334-1; Catalog No. 20570 $$ Order Now 

Benchmarking Water Utility Customer Relations Best Practices
Customer satisfaction is important to water utilities to minimize customer complaints and associated costs, maintain customer goodwill, and increase customer support for utility improvement initiatives. A good way to improve customer satisfaction is to implement best practices in those areas that directly affect your customers. This study will tell you what those best practices are, so you can choose the appropriate ones for your utility. This project identifies best practices in the major utility customer service areas: call center, meter reading, billing, payment processing, credit and collections, and customer- related field services. High-performing organizations were identified based on specific customer service measurement metrics and/or a reputation for superior customer service (such as winning recognized customer satisfaction awards). These leading organizations' practices were examined for common themes. For example, best performers use detailed measures of employee and group performance in both service and efficiency and link these performance measures to employee rewards. The report will give you tools to measure your utility's customer service performance using standardized customer service metrics developed for this research study. You can compare your utility's customer service performance with other utilities using a purpose-built Web site for utility customer service benchmarking. An included CD-ROM provides web site forms and menus, and other processes associated with high customer satisfaction. 2006 - Softbound - 160 pp. ISBN 1583214267; Catalog No. 91096 $$ Order Now 

Customer Attitudes, Behavior, and the Impact of Communications Efforts
Water utilities are finding that communication with their customers is becoming increasingly important. This report will help water utility managers understand why communication is important, what types of information should be communicated, and how to communicate with customers to maximize satisfaction with their utilities. Report includes survey data on CD-ROM. 2004 - Softbound - 97 pp. ISBN 1583213090; Catalog No. 90975 $$ Order Now 

Focus First on Service: The Voice and Face of Your Utility
Water utility customer service representatives face a variety of customer problems and complaints every day. They need specific training in how to deal with customer problems quickly and provide satisfactory solutions. Focus First on Service: The Voice and Face of Your Utility is a new employee training workbook written specifically for water utility customer service representatives. Designed for either classroom or individual study, the workbook covers all aspects of water utility customer service, from what is meant by water utility customer service and why it is important, to specific types of issues and problems employees will encounter on the job. Chapters include exercises that allow trainees to immediately apply what they learn to solve a variety of customer problems that they might encounter on the job. Sample scenarios provide typical conversations between customers and the utility representatives on a variety of problems, such as a billing question or service cutoff. The scenarios offer acceptable and unacceptable ways of handling a variety of common customer encounters. Sample letters and e-mails are included to reply to customer problems, such as high bill complaints or taste-and-odor problems.2007 - Softbound - 81 pp. ISBN 1583214585; Catalog No. 20629 $$ Order Now 

Public Works Management Practices Manual
The Manual describes the basic criteria and procedures necessary to perform as a full-service public works agency and provides the framework for the object self assessment of an agency. (2004 [new edition due August 2008]) $$ Order Now 

TARGET: Finance Series
This series is uniquely targeted to help public works management and their staff understand financial management concepts and practices, and how they relate to broader public works issues. (2007 CDROM) $$ Order Now 

Thinking Outside the Bill: A Utility Manager's Guide to Assisting Low-Income Water Customers
Water costs generally are rising faster than both inflation and income for low-income households. This guide will assist water utilities needing to raise their rates in keeping water affordable for low-income customers. It provides:

  • Information about the ability of low-income customers to afford water service

  • Tools to determine if there is a serious affordability problem in the community a utility serves

  • Types of programs water utilities are using to help their low-income customers better afford water service, plus some simple tools utilities can implement in the short term

Steps to take immediately to enhance low-income customers' ability to afford water service 2005 - Softbound - 52 pp. ISBN 1583213597; Catalog No. 20594 $$ Order Now 

Water Quality Complaint Investigators Field Guide
This handy field guide provides procedures to help a customer complaint investigator determine the source of a water quality problem. Eight major categories describe the majority of customer complaints about water quality. In each category, the guide describes the possible causes and solutions. 2004 - Softbound - 102 pp. ISBN 1-58321-346-5; Catalog No. 20574 $$ Order Now 


Measures:

Customer complaints
Description:
This measure assesses the complaint rates experienced by the utility, with individual quantification of customer service and core utility service complaints.1 As a "passive measure," it will not likely be numerically representative (i.e., a statistically valid customer sample group) and is a "starting point" measure for understanding customer service problems.

Example calculations:
Number of complaints per 1,000 customers per reporting period, recorded as either customer service or technical quality complaints. These calculations are based on the QualServe Customer Service Complaints/Technical Quality Complaints Indicator.

  • Customer service complaint rate: 1,000 X (customer service associated complaints / number of active customer accounts). This is a QualServe Indicator.2 

  • Technical quality complaint rate: 1,000 X (technical quality associated complaints / number of active customer accounts). This is a QualServe Indicator.3 

For both calculations, utilities may wish to subcategorize complaints by type and aspect (e.g., customer service into billing, problem responsiveness, interruptions, etc., and technical quality into service deficiencies such as taste, odor, appearance, flow/pressure, etc.) and by type of customer (e.g., residential, industrial, commercial, etc.)

Customer service delivery
Description:
This measure requires the utility, based on internal objectives and customer input, to set desirable customer service levels, then determine an appropriate (target) percentage of time to meet the performance levels. Once established, the utility can track how often it meets the service levels, helping the utility to determine how well customer needs are being satisfied (e.g., have 95 percent of service calls received a response within 60 minutes). A utility can average across individual measures to determine the overall percentage of service level commitments met.

Example calculations: 

  • Call responsiveness (percent): 100 X (number of calls responded to within "X" minutes / total number of calls during reporting period) (typically per month).

  • Error-driven billing adjustment rate (percent): 100 X (number of error-driven billing adjustments during reporting period / number of bills generated during reporting period). This is a QualServe Indicator.4 

  • Service start/stop responsiveness (percent): 100 X (number of stop/start service orders processed within "X" days / total number of stop/start service orders during reporting period).

  • First call resolution (percent): 100 X (number of calls for which problem was resolved/fixed/scheduled to be fixed at the time of the first call / total number of calls during reporting period).

Customer satisfaction
Description:
This is an overarching customer satisfaction measure based on requested customer feedback (surveys), not calls received or internal customer satisfaction service level commitments. A utility can measure customer satisfaction immediately after service provision or use a periodically performed, more comprehensive customer satisfaction survey. After-service surveys are simpler and easier for the utility to develop and implement without professional advice, but they tend to over represent the most satisfied (e.g., those who just received service) and the most dissatisfied (e.g., those who just called with complaints) customers. Comprehensive surveys can provide statistical validity enabling extrapolation to the population served. A utility can verify survey information through customer conversations, either as follow up to a survey, during public meetings or focus groups, or by some other method (e.g., individual telephone calls).

Example calculation: 

  • Overall customer satisfaction: Percent of positive or negative customer satisfaction survey responses based on a statistically valid survey or on an immediately after-service survey. Satisfaction responses can be divided into categories such as: highly satisfied/satisfied/moderately satisfied/unsatisfactory; exceeding expectations/meeting expectations/not meeting expectations; numerical scales (e.g., 1-5); or other divisions. Customer satisfaction information is often also gathered and assessed by topic areas such as product quality, service reliability, billing accuracy, customer service, costs/rates/value, crew courtesy, notification around street construction/service interruptions, etc.


[1]  From AWWA and AwwaRF, Selection and Definition of Performance Indicators for Water and Wastewater Utilities, p. 41. 2004. Note: This material is copyrighted and any reprinting must be by permission of the American Water Works Association 

[2] Ibid., p. 41.  

[3] Ibid., p. 42.  

[4] From AWWA and AwwaRF, Selection and Definition of Performance Indicators for Water and Wastewater Utilities, p. 49. 2004. Note: This material is copyrighted and any reprinting must be by permission of the American Water Works Association.