Water is an integral part of almost any industry, from manufacturing to energy production to food and beverage. But if water treatment is not your core competency, you may find it necessary to enlist the expertise of a water service provider. With water being such an important part of your business, how can you ensure that the provider you choose is the right one? WaterWorld sat down with Tim Crowley, business director of General Industry Solutions for Evoqua Water Technologies, to find out.
WATERWORLD: Tim, you've been in this industry for more than 30 years, on both the operations and sales sides of the business. What do you see as the major drivers steering customers toward a water service provider?
TIM CROWLEY: The motivating factors that really drive customers to want to pick what they would consider to be the right water service provider boil down to a few very key areas. First and foremost: safety and environmental compliance. The biggest asset that a customer has is its people and they need to be able to return home at the end of the day in the same shape as they came into work. Plus, these companies need to be environmentally responsible for the communities and neighborhoods where they are located, so it's really the number one motivating factor that they have when they are considering a water service provider.
The second thing is that customers want a provider who brings value. By value, we're talking about the innovative ideas and the right solutions that lead to competitive pricing over the lifecycle of the water system.
The third and final driver is comfort. Customers want to know that they have chosen a partner that they can trust and count on -- somebody who's got their back and can become an integral part of their success.
WW: So when a customer is trying to find that right partner, what are the most important criteria they need to consider?
TC: Safety is first and foremost. Customers should look for a water service provider with a strong safety culture in place -- that is extremely important. They should expect any water company that they invite into their facilities to be able to adhere to the rules and regulations that govern their business. A water service provider that does not have a solid safety culture in place will have a hard time following the customer's rules and regulations.
WW: But how does the customer know whether a water service provider has a strong safety culture?
TC: There are a lot of key metrics and KPIs in the safety world. We at Evoqua supply these on a routine basis to our clients because they ask for them. What they really want to know is that safety is integrated into the entire lifecycle of all of our business practices, and providing these metrics indicates to them that we are always consistently striving for improved performance.
WW: Does it ever happen that you go into a potential customer and they, themselves, don’t have a good safety culture in place? What happens then?
TC: It does happen on occasion and, when it does, we call them out on it and stop work. We train our employees for these situations and every one of them has the authority to stop work, notify the customer, and call their supervisor. I can tell you that in 9 out of 10 cases, the customer is appalled to find out what happened -- and is grateful to us for notifying them.
WW: So, safety is number one. What's the next thing customers need to consider?
TC: The next criteria is the size of the water service provider. Customers should look for companies that will be around for a long period of time. These can be long-term contracts; you want to know that your water service provider has the financial strength to survive any market downturns. It's also important to look for a provider with national purchasing power -- which is passed on to customers in the form of a competitive selling price -- not necessarily the lowest price, but a competitive selling price -- for the long life cycle of the water system. And finally, with regard to size, it's important to look not at any one of the provider's locations but at how many locations they have. A local presence -- within 1 or 2 hours from the customer's site -- is significant from both a sales standpoint and a service standpoint.
WW: Why is a local presence so important in today's mobile world?
TC: A large company that has a very large corporate location but not really anything local will have to fly people in to the customer's location -- that’s a risk to the customer in terms of time. The ability to establish a local relationship with the provider's sales staff and technical services groups -- the people that service the customer on a regular basis -- that's what truly puts the resources of a big company at the customer's disposal.
WW: We've talked about safety and size -- what's third on the list?
TC: The next one is all about expertise. The water service provider's knowledge is really only useful to the customer if it is accessible to them. That means that the people who touch that customer have to have the highest levels of competency, communication, and dedication to that customer. That comes in the form of very knowledgeable sales people backed up by deep application engineering, project management, and manufacturing expertise. Further, the customer should look for a provider who has a very good knowledge of the customer’s business and the type of water systems that it requires.
That brings us to the next criteria: core competency. In the water business, there are companies that focus on adding chemicals to change the nature of the water and there are companies that focus on removing salts and sediments from the water, and there are companies that try to focus on both. But, when you are a company that does both, your expertise is quite spread out. It really de-focuses you: you're okay at several different things but not really good at any one thing. That is not what customers should look for. Rather, they should look for a company that is really good at the objective they are trying to achieve.
WW: What kind of company are you?
TC: Evoqua is a company that takes chemicals out of the water. And that's it; we don't dabble in that other part of the business. As a customer, when you evaluate core competency and you find a company that's focused, you will find that that company can meet your specifications quite well. You also get a very cost-effective and high-quality solution because the provider is focused on it.
There are companies that claim they can do everything, but in our world, there are certain times when potential customers need something that is not our core competency. In those cases, we tell them that it's probably not something that we can do very well for them, and that we probably need to pass on something like that.
WW: So, what's next on our list?
TC: The next area, number five, is innovation. This is really where the rubber hits the road. Customers should give preference to water service providers that can deliver innovation -- which can come in many, many different forms: equipment, logistics, remote monitoring services, actual direct services. But whatever it is, the preferred supplier should maintain a technological leadership position in the market, and that’s really based on bringing to the table new perspectives and ideas about how to solve the customer's issue, really listening to the customer and what they are trying to do.
When you have that innovation, it leads to very cost-competitive situations, which is really an important consideration over the lifecycle of the ownership. And sometimes customers make mistakes: they buy the low-cost system only to find out down the road that they bought something that isn’t really the total right solution. Over the life of that system, it's going to cost a lot of money to make it work correctly. It teaches a difficult lesson -- that it’s not necessarily the lowest cost but the most competitive cost you should be looking for.
WW: We've talked about safety, company size, expertise, core competency, and innovation -- bringing us to the sixth and final item on our list.
TC: Transparency. Customers should look for a service company that will be transparent with them, that will review with them on a regular basis the data and the knowledge being learned from the system, and that will then teach it to them.
WW: Can you give some examples from your own experience?
TC: Absolutely. We do a lot of remote monitoring of our equipment just for data tracking on various thing: flows, pressures, things of that nature. But we also combine that with local service that goes to the facility on a regular basis to do other data collection that you just can’t do remotely. What we hear consistently from customers is that they appreciate seeing us there because it creates a value and comfort factor that we're really watching over that system.
If the service provider is turning dials and pushing buttons from a computer 500 miles away, and never goes on site except when something happens, it turns people off. Customers should look for a provider with a personal touch, a collaborative mindset that adds value for them and creates a trusted partner relationship. Customers want a provider who will work with them to achieve their mutual goals, and as the provider, you have to be responsive to their concerns and ways of doing business. When you have that, it ultimately leads to improved plant reliability and -- most importantly -- reduced downtime.
These days, companies are getting hit with all kinds of challenges -- from water consumption to reuse to discharge. Now, these plants don’t make water for a living; it’s not their core competency. But they probably can’t make whatever it is they make without water. So, at the end of the day, these companies need to decide whether their water service provider is more concerned about its own profit or their customer’s profit. And we, as a water service provider, have always felt that if we had more concern about our customer’s profitability, then our profitability will take care of itself.