WaterWorld Weekly Newscast, May 22, 2017

May 22, 2017
A transcript of the WaterWorld Weekly Newscast for May 22, 2017.
Report underscores importance of water utility customer satisfaction; Water emergency declared in Vicksburg; AWWA launches pipe repair cost forecasting tool; EPA launches new ‘Waters of the U.S.’ website; Special Guest: Andrew Heath, J.D. Power

The fololowing is a transcript of the WaterWorld Weekly Newscast for May 22, 2017.

Hi, I'm Angela Godwin for WaterWorld magazine, bringing you water and wastewater news headlines for the week of May 22. Coming up...

Report underscores importance of water utility customer satisfaction
Water emergency declared in Vicksburg
AWWA launches pipe repair cost forecasting tool
EPA launches new ‘Waters of the U.S.’ website
Special Guest: Andrew Heath, J.D. Power

Last week, J.D. Power released its 2017 Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, an in-depth look at how residential water customers feel about their utilities.

The study looked at six factors: delivery; price; conservation; billing and payment; communications; and customer service.

Among some of the key findings, the research found that frequent communication maximizes customer satisfaction, while water quality problems such as taste and odor issues have a significant negative impact on customer's feel about their water utilities.

Andrew Heath, senior director of the utility practice at J.D. Power, noted that in light of the need for major investment in water infrastructure, getting the backing of customers will be central to water utilities' ability to achieve the support they need to make much needed improvements.

Coming up later in the broadcast, we'll talk with Andrew Heath to learn more about the study.

A state of emergency was declared in Vicksburg, Mississippi, last week after a water main break left more than 29,000 residents without water.

The situation was exacerbated by flooding from the Mississippi River, which left the damaged 36-inch main submerged under 11 feet of water, making access difficult.

Crews are working to build a 12-foot levee around the main so they can pump out the water to access the pipe.

As of late last week, officials estimated that residents could be without water for up to five days.

Schools and many businesses were closed, and the city has set up water distribution centers for residents.

Last week was Infrastructure Week, and in observance of that, the American Water Works Association announced the launch of an online tool that offers water and wastewater utilities the opportunity to accurately forecast the cost of their water and wastewater pipe repair and replacement needs.

The Buried No Longer tool provides cost estimates and financial deferrals based on inputted data by a utility and is broken down by pipe size or material.

Twenty-nine graphical outputs are generated to create a profile that is reflective of a community’s unique infrastructure needs.

You can learn more about the Buried No Longer tool in the "Resources & Tools" section of the AWWA website, awwa.org.

The Environmental Protection Agency has launched a new website to provide the public with information about the agency's review of the definition of Waters of the U.S. as set out in the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

The site replaces the website developed for the 2015 rulemaking process and will provide relevant information explaining actions to review the rule, including how EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are working with local, state and tribal partners to examine their role in the regulation of water under the Clean Water Act.

To learn more, visit epa.gov/wotus-rule.

Last week, J.D. Power released its 2017 Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study and here to tell us more is Andrew Heath, senior director of the utility practice at J.D. Power.

Andrew, what was the purpose of the study?

ANDREW HEATH: We wanted to understand what customers' views were about their water utility. To do that, we reached out to over 40,000 residential water utility customers across, representing over a hundred million customers in total, asked them a range of questions regarding their interaction with their water utility. The main driver is…right now, there's a significant need for large investment in water infrastructure. For the water utilities to be able to make that investment, getting the backing of their customers, is going to be key. So understanding the voice of customer will be a key part to help water utilities achieve the improvements they need. And as part of the study we also get the ability to benchmark performance from one water utility to another, understand who's performing well, and maybe help some of those who are not performing so well identify the areas they need to improve.

Compared to last year, water utility customer satisfaction appears to be flat. What seems to be driving that?

ANDREW HEATH: It's interesting that we got results very similar to the first time we conducted this study 12 months ago. If you think back 12 months, there was a lot of very negative media coverage regarding water issues. So certainly it's a very interesting finding that we've got very similar results, not higher, pretty much the same that we got 12 months back. That leads us to believe that in general water satisfaction for residential customers is relatively stable. Unfortunately if we do a comparison to other service industries, the water industry is actually one of the industries that performs the lowest across all the industries that J.D. Power surveys.

Were there any findings that were particularly surprising?

ANDREW HEATH: One of the interesting things from the survey was the disparity and the gap between the highest performing water utilities and those that were getting the lowest satisfaction scores -- a very wide range. In many ways, I guess most of us would think of their water supply being a fairly standard service, and yet clearly there are large differences across the nation that are reported by customers associated with the water they drink and also the service they get from their water utility. So clearly some organizations are doing a great job keeping customers satisfied. Others could learn from those organizations and really focus on areas where they need to improve performance to meet customers' expectations.

How might water utilities use the report findings to assess their own customer service initiatives?

ANDREW HEATH: One of the key things we'll do is ask in detail what happened when a customer made contact during a customer service interaction. So, did they get the answer to the question? How long were they on the phone? If they used the website, how did that experience go? So that level of detailed analysis is helpful to understand what is working and what water utilities can do to improve the overall customer experience. We also look at some of the newer channels that customers are starting to use, things like chat or email, or even things like social media where they contact a service provider, to gain an understanding of how the industry's doing but also how well they are actually meeting the expectations of customers based on standards and service levels they may receive from other service providers, not just their utility. Maybe their bank or their credit card company.

Final question for you, Andrew, what would you say is the overall takeaway from the research?

ANDREW HEATH: One of the key things we found were the importance of basic service. If you look at what drives overall satisfaction, almost half of it is related to the core product, the drinking water itself. How reliable are the services? The quality of the water? And then also how much the customer is paying for the water. So, providing high quality, reliable, affordable water drives half of what customers determine in terms of their levels of satisfaction. The other half is associated with things around how the utility engages with customers, things like the billing and payment process, levels of communication, activities regarding conservation, and then finally, things such as customer service, where the customer is either on the phone or visiting the utility website to get an answer to a question.

Thank you, Andrew. If you'd like to learn more, you can visit jdpower.com and click on "Ratings by Industry," where you'll find the Utilities category.

For WaterWorld magazine, I'm Angela Godwin. Thanks for watching.