During the webinar, one of the questions asked was, “What is the best way to determine an appropriate level of service for community water or wastewater system?”
Yeah and thanks for the question, and that’s a good question because everybody has to answer it.
And I think the answer is – document what you’re doing right now. That’s the starting point.
Levels of service for community water and wastewater systems don’t just arrive out of nowhere.
You’re actually delivering service now and that at a level that your communities presumably been reasonably happy with as it has evolved over time.
Regulations, state and federal laws and local ordinance
So, there are about three things that you have to look at. The first is, you will have regulations, and state and federal laws and local ordinances, and sort of things like that you’re required to meet.
So they set for community water and wastewater and other system and networks. They will set it a minimum service level. It is just a matter of doing a stocktake take on those, we’re meeting all of those.
One of the things we found in New Zealand when we build that back in the mid 90’s, was hey, oh, there are a few laws that we aren’t really meeting that well. There are some gaps, there are some issues.
And so that starts a really good conversion within the organization straight up. But obviously, water supply and wastewater are generally regulated systems and that’s a good starting point.
How you are delivering your service
The second thing is to look at how you are delivering your service, operationally, and so that might deal with – if I have a break or I have an outage or whatever it is, what sort of response times I’m looking at.
It might come down to what sorts of pressure you’re trying to deliver it boundary or a tap that might be flow rates, so those sorts of things.
And so you can come up with some suitable figures there, and again, be guided by your current practice.
What’s appropriate to your community, might be quite different from another community.
And examples I’m thinking of is we have communities in New Zealand much the same as in the US where there’s a fair bit of travel like it might have the base in a central town and it might, the service quite might have a drive for an hour to get out of the outlining town or even two hours or longer. And so the area they’re looking at.
So there’s no use of having a half hour response time if you got a two-hour drive to get to any particular site. So it’s just conditioning that to what works for your community and what’s acceptable.
I’m not suggesting a half an hour response time is a good idea. I’m just using that as an example. And then it’s just, that will give you a really good basis for going forward.
The other thing with service levels is to realize that they sit at two levels. And this was the mistake we made years ago, we’ve sorted it out over here now.
The levels of service that your community, that is expressed terms that your community understands.
So like, I have water I can drink. It’s enough pressure and it’s there all the time. Those are the sorts of statements that I guess are community-orientated service levels.
Another one might be if you got firefighting capacity at that particular system and you got enough water for firefighting.
And so you have community service levels, but then at the secondary level, you have these technical ones.
So then, your pressure is so many, pound per square inch of pressure at boundary or tap. Your firefighting, you would express in gallons per minute or gallons per hour or what.
Those sorts of things, so then you’re getting into your more, the stuff that you need to measure as an authority. But really your consumers aren’t that interested in.
The mistake we made a decade and a half ago is that we did all the technical service levels because as organizations that’s how we were thinking and put them up there.
The elected representatives, the boards, the councils and the community, their eyes glazed over because that’s not how they think.
Wastewater, the people want to, I want to be able to go to the bathroom, I want to be able to flush, I want it to go away…I don’t want to be bubbling up in the street.
You know, and that’s, and I want to know I’m not polluting the environment. Yeah, those sorts of service levels.
Inside that there’s a whole heap of technical service levels again that an organization might run.
So that’s the second thing. The third thing is:
Don’t have too many
And again, you tend to do that, you tend to write a big long list of them and the trick from there is to group them up a little bit and not make a, if you going to measure them, just pick the ones that are important and measure those, because otherwise, you’ll end up spending all day measuring service levels than actually delivering service.
And so that’s a little trap to watch out as well. You might want to add something to that Heather.
Yeah, I would just like to echo a lot of what Ross just said, in saying that there are really are a finite number of things that your customers care about.
Which makes it kind of nice in water arena because you don’t have a thousand things that customers are going to be asking for.
So they’re typically looking at quality things, where that, are you meeting regulations and that type of thing.
And maybe some aesthetic concerns, the look, the taste, what the water appears like to you, they’re typically concerned some about aesthetics.
And then usually pressure is important, although they might not understand pressure per se, they want the water to come out of a second story bathroom; shower with enough force.
So they understand it more on intuitive term maybe than actual numbers. And then they like some kind of customer service.
You know if they call you, how fast would be before you respond to them. Or if a break occurs in their driveway, I mean outside their driveway, on the street, how quickly are you going to get to them.
But there’s not lots and lots and lots and lots of other things that they care about.
So if you focus on the main things, as Ross was mentioning, focus on the main things that they care about. Look at what you’re doing now and whether or not that is adequate.
Or you need to tighten up some of those, or change some of those, and do you get a lot of complaints from customers if the pressure is not high enough. If you do, maybe you need to raise the pressure and look at that.
If you don’t get a lot of complaints, and things are going well, then you might have a very good pressure and you just need to maintain that. You don’t need to change that service level.
So I think if you’re really focusing on those things that customers really care about, set your service levels for those things as a good starting place.
And then over time, you can add in, either some technical service levels like what Ross was talking about that are more internal to the system, or maybe a few other customers levels of service of things that they might want.
But it doesn’t have to be a huge list of things. It should be just something that you could manage that really hit the high point; then I think you would be doing pretty well.
And I think the other thing is to start simple. Make it more complicated if you need to as you go along. And don’t be afraid to go and talk to your field service guys.
Be it a contract or your own team, just find out what they think they’re delivering. Then in itself, it can just start a really really good conversation with an organization.
And then you might find out what you’re delivering is actually quite different from the reality of what’s being delivered.
And then that can, in use that service level, writing them out is a really good organizational tool to just determine that everything is you think it is and that you are delivering the service that you are promising.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lester Public Library via Creative Commons