Real Convenience

Help your customers see the tremendous value in the services you provide.

Everything costs money. We pay for everything we own, use and consume. We don’t bat an eye at the cost of some things, while others pain us to open our wallets or slide our cards.

It’s easier — or at least more enjoyable, certainly — to spend money on the things we want rather than necessities. A new bike, boat, vacation or nice dinner are all fun ways to spend money. They’re all rewards for your hard work. Utility bills don’t make that list for most people. Water and wastewater services tend to be just another bill that has to be paid, often with mumbled complaints about the price or increasing rates. Seldom is much thought given to the value or convenience of those services. We expect them. An understanding of why rates are rising is even rarer. After all, water comes from the ground or falls from the sky — why should I be paying any more for it today than I did yesterday? It’s not as if the earth is charging the utilities more for the raw product.

We willingly pay for enjoyment and convenience. We begrudgingly pay for necessities because the necessities are things we expect. And not to pull out the whole “there are starving kids in wherever” refrain we all heard at some point when we didn’t want to eat what our parents put on the dinner table, but that enjoyment-over-necessity perspective is horribly askew.

In terms of what it means to our lives and lifestyles, we should all gladly pull out our checkbooks when the monthly water bill arrives, but I’m guessing that’s not the response you get from your customers. But I know for certain that many, many of those same customers don’t bat an eye at spending $2 for a bottle of water when they stop at the convenience store. You know, because, convenience. Never mind the convenience of having clean, safe water every time they turn on the taps at home. Or throwing in a load of laundry and having the machine fill itself with clean water that magically flows away after cleaning and rinsing their clothes. Or showers. They’re at times every bit as enjoyable as necessary. The people in developing countries washing their clothes — and themselves — in rivers of waste would probably appreciate that convenience.

You’ll probably never be able to fully change some customers’ negative attitudes toward the services you provide, but the two utilities profiled in this issue of Municipal Sewer & Water offer a couple examples of how to build stronger relationships and greater appreciation among your customer base.

When the Heber Springs (Arkansas) Water and Wastewater Utility went to a new automated metering system, it not only improved efficiency, it gave customers the ability to log in and see their own water usage so they can better understand how much water they’re using and detect potential problems. Customers also get information and a better understanding of where their money is going through the utility’s Facebook page, where updates on projects, repairs and other initiatives are posted daily.

Advanced metering infrastructure is also providing a level of education and transparency in Round Rock, Texas, a fast-growing community outside Austin. But for the residents who’ve long called Round Rock home, as well as the people flocking to new developments, it’s the city’s impact fees that are demonstrating value. Rather than raising rates to pay for new infrastructure to accommodate all that new development, the city is placing the onus on the developers through impact fees. That way the existing customer base doesn’t shoulder the cost of extending services to new residents. Those new residents get something, too: city services that provide a significant savings over putting in private wells and septic systems.

On top of it all, the strategy has helped the utility eliminate most debt service, which customers also appreciate.

So while your customers may never feel quite as good about paying their water bills as they do that new boat, you can help them appreciate the water a whole lot more.

Enjoy this month’s issue.


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