How involved should I have my customers be in determining my level of service and how do I go about involving them?
Now I can tell you. I’ll give an answer and I’ll let Ross intervene because New Zealand has a lot of getting information from customers.
In the US, we do not do a lot of that but there are utilities that would go out and do different kinds of customer information gathering efforts.
So some of them will do focus groups and invite customers in to talk. Some of them do surveys. That sort of thing.
Personally, I believe you want to find a way to get that customer conversation going and figure out what customers want. Because they are a big part of the picture of what you’re going to provide and they’re going to have to pay for it.
So if they’re not involved in that conversation at all, it’s going to be a lot harder to convince them to pay for things and to have them understand that connection between the level of service and cost. We don’t have in the US a very good connection between levels of service – costs something.
Nobody realizes what they’re paying for when they pay the water bill – it is the service. It’s not the water. And the more we can get that hammered into people’s head that what you’re paying for is service.
You want more service, you pay more. You want less service; you pay a little less. But they’re two very tightly tied together concepts – that you’ve got to pay for the service you get.
NZ Utility Levels of Service Categories
But New Zealand does a lot better in getting the customer feedback and then you can talk a little bit about what you’re doing over there.
So I’m just been doing some work for a client very recently. They were wanting to review their service levels. It was a water, wastewater, and stormwater utility.
And so we had a big look at all the service levels across the comparable authorities in New Zealand and also some international practice.
The list that’s on the screen on the slide at the moment is basically how we group our levels of service in New Zealand.
- So you’ve got the Public Health and Safety one – so that’s the quality of your water.
- The Management of Environmental Impacts – so the discharged of contaminants and or with wastewater, the discharge of wastewater you have permits or impacts there.
- There’s a group of service levels around Response to System and Network issues. How do you respond to breaks or blockages in a wastewater system? How fast? How and what sort of measures do you have for time on site, time for restoration – those sort of ones?
- Customer Satisfaction – There’s a whole group of service levels around how satisfied the customers with the service that you’re providing?
- And then the Financial Performance ones they’re basically the bang for the buck – how much does it cost, do I get good service for that?
Now the thing is that the first two of those, usually almost always set by either permits, or regulations, or legislation. Or over here, EPA requirements, Safe Water Act, things like that.
So you can consult on them, but that doesn’t change the outcome at all because you’ve really got, particularly in water and wastewater, you’ve got minimum standards that are required and that’s going to set your base level of service.
So the stuff that you end up consulting on particularly is normally around the response and satisfaction ones – we do in New Zealand. The other thing that happens, and I think it is something that gets overlooked is project specific service level consultations.
So I’m putting in a new treatment plant or I’m putting out a new wastewater discharge or something like that. It’s a big project and it’s going to cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. So in New Zealand, as part of our permitting system over there, we have to consult for that.
And so sometimes, that sort of community discussion about what’s required and what would be the best solution for the community and stuff like that actually does a lot of your consultation, but it’s around a specific water treatment or wastewater treatment discharge type permitting discussion.
I think the main thing, particularly in utilities, is that a lot of it is quite regulated. So you do actually have minimum levels of service.
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FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Niagara Falls by Ross Waugh