INDUSTRIAL WATERWORLD: Evoqua has established itself a leader in the water technology space. How has it done that?
MITCH SUMMERFIELD: I would say most of it centers on our customer intimacy. We have a great understanding of our customers, their markets, their businesses, and it really helps us work on better solving their problems for them.
IWW: What types of companies to you work with?
MS: We partner with a lot of the large industry leaders. We do business with 90% of the top Fortune 500 companies. When it comes to food and beverage companies and pharmaceutical companies, we do business with about 85% of the largest companies in that space. So, we’re very well entrenched with those customers.
IWW: What has enabled Evoqua to align so well with those customers?
MS: We understand their drivers and, certainly, the impact that their businesses have on the water environment and their customers. We’ve got a lot of experience in those markets, and we draw on that experience as we develop new project concepts for customers including design, installation, and training. And, since we provide service and all the spare parts for those systems long-term, we stay with those projects, so we see what things we’ve done well -- and what we need to do differently next time. The ability to service and maintain the systems we put in the field helps us continue to evolve as we develop new systems for our customers.
IWW: How is Evoqua able to maintain, over the long term, a leadership position within the industries you’ve served?
MS: In addition to working closely with our customers, we’re also a market leader in some of the conferences and summits in the industry. In the microelectronic space, for example, we're a partner at the Ultrapure Water Micro conference. We’re contributors to ISPE for pharmaceutical. We also attended the 2016 White House Water Summit. So, we’re very well engaged in what’s happening environmentally with water conservation. In addition to being very close to our customers, we’re very committed to making sure we’re staying up-to-date with many of the committees, conferences, and other initiatives going on in the market.
IWW: When it comes to customer feedback, how do you handle receiving and integrating insights from your clients?
MS: We have a number of different processes internally. We've implemented an NPS (Net Promoter Score) process where we survey customers. We do third-party analysis of feedback from customers around what we’ve done well and what we might need to do differently in the future. We get that data on a monthly basis, we review it, and we put continuous improvement plans in place against it. Many of those things have helped us drive the innovations that we’ve been able to develop over the years.
IWW: So, not only are you listening to what your customers are saying, you are also using it to inform your product development. How do you do that?
MS: As we get that feedback -- from where we participate with customers personally, where we participate in conferences and trade shows -- it helps us think about new technologies we need to develop. So, we spend a lot of time on patents and trademarks to further drive some of the technologies that we have, which helps us maintain a leadership role in the space. We hold over 1,500 patents and trademarks. We're a leader in advanced oxidation in the microelectronics space and also in high-purity water systems for pharmaceutical -- all because of the innovative work we’ve done based on feedback from our customers.
IWW: We know what a critical resource water is and how important it is to safeguard it. What is Evoqua doing to protect the water supply, not just today but going forward into the future?
MS: Sustainability is our heritage. We’re absolutely committed to leading the sustainability effort. As I mentioned before, we attended the White House Water Summit last year, and we made a commitment to double the amount of water we treat for reuse and reclamation to five billion gallons a day by 2021. The technologies we have in place and the R&D we're doing right now are focused around that.
We also just developed a new technology called Nexsys. It’s based on electrodesalination and leverages some of our previous technologies to recover much of the water that many of our customers are discharging today. So, often times, we’ll put a reverse osmosis system in to purify water, but those RO systems produce a lot of waste. Our Nexsys system can take that and recover up to about 95% of that water. The ability to recycle and reuse that water makes a big impact on our industrial customers.
We also do a lot of work around remote monitoring and minimizing waste. We have a whole business line around what we call service deionization, which prevents our customers from having to discharge water when they’re purifying it. So, we provide vessels and technology where our customers can run water through our equipment, and they recover 100% of that water on the other side as purified water. Then we take that equipment back, and we take care of regeneration, getting that equipment back into a position where it can be reused again and recover more water. So, it’s a much more efficient way of purifying water and not discharging a lot of water down the drain.
We do that with wastewater as well. We have a pretty extensive service business around treating industrial wastewater for our customers and taking the equipment that does that back to our facility, so they don’t have any local discharge issues. We have a RCRA-certified facility in Minnesota that treats all of that. So, we literally take it off our customers’ hands.
IWW: Safety is another aspect where Evoqua has emerged as a leader. Can you elaborate?
MS: Safety is in our DNA. It is the most important thing we do and the first thing we talk about in any project. We’re very focused on driving customer satisfaction and continuous improvement -- but it’s all done with a safety culture in mind.
IWW: Are you using any sort of automation or analysis to inform your safety processes?
MS: We’ve gotten beyond just reporting on our data, which we think is best in class, to now looking at predictive activities and how they correlate with better safety results. We’ve gotten into loss prevention observation, near-loss misses, and reporting things that could have happened but didn’t -- all of these things help us improve our safety culture.
IWW: Does that safety culture percolate through your entire organization?
MS: Absolutely. All of our service professionals go through safety training. It’s a constant part of our training program. In fact, we go through continuous field service engineering training whereby all of our service engineers are trained not only on the different technologies we have but all the training programs we have -- how to do their jobs safely.
IWW: What if something does happen? How are you able to use that to help improve your protocols?
MS: In the event that something was to occur, or we observed something that could occur, we have monthly reviews with the leadership team, based on input from the organization, to talk about what we want to do differently. All the processes we have then get updated as a result. It’s a lot more than just putting posters up on the walls. We live and breathe a safety culture at Evoqua.
IWW: You have dozens of branches around the country. Why is that significant to your ability to support your customers?
MS: Our ability to support our customers is wholly based on our branch organization. For my business in particular, we have 62 branches around North America. Our status as a strong leader is centered on being able to be at a customer's site within two hours, for any kind of issues our customers have. That helps our customers continue to run and operate, which in turn drives a lot of customer satisfaction. That’s what has helped us develop such strong and long-term relationships with our largest customers -- that we’re there, we’re reliable, and we do everything in a very safe fashion. I think that’s what leadership is all about: being there when the challenges arise, resolving them quickly and decisively, and allowing your customers to continue to focus on doing what they do.
IWW: What do you think it means to your clients when one of your service professionals shows up? What do they expect?
MS: We have the best trained service professionals in the industry. They go through extensive and rigorous training programs. They have to pass very extensive and challenging courses and tests, and we’ve got different levels of service professionals -- from Certified and Master Certified to Elite Certified -- each showing what their qualifications are.
We make sure that the professionals we send out are perfectly aligned with the tasks that they need to accomplish. So, when one of our service professionals shows up on site, not only are they trained appropriately but they’ve got visible badging on their uniform or their shirt to show the level of service they provide. This way, there is no disconnect between the expectations our customer has and the service that our professional is able to deliver for that particular application.
All of this -- the safety, the training, the conservation -- is part of our business philosophy. We want to deliver worry-free water for our customers