A national water survey will help councils better understand customers’ attitudes, says Water New Zealand’s chief executive John Pfahlert.
Water is one of the most essential services that local authorities provide to customers every day yet it’s a service that most people don’t understand. They don’t know what it means to be without water for a day and don’t understand just how little it costs every time they pour a glass of water from their tap.
Many local authorities are now recognising this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
As Auckland Watercare’s CEO Raveen Jaduram explained to an audience at the Water New Zealand annual conference, monopolies need to be customer centric because customers have no choice, and when they don’t understand the service, they start to lose trust.
That’s why the term customer engagement has become a buzz phrase for many of us in the sector. But what does that mean? To ensure that our customers fully understand the great value provided for them, we first need to understand our communities’ attitudes, priorities and perceptions.
A growing view in our sector is that that we need cultural change in how we engage with each other. The change requires more collaboration and focus on what we, as a sector that provides essential services, have in common.
It’s with this in mind that Water New Zealand is launching a national water survey that will seek the views of a diverse cross section of New Zealanders and gather data and opinions on a number of questions around water and the services they get.
The survey, which will be the first comprehensive national stocktake of its kind, aims to help councils and water utilities better understand their customers and provide valuable information to help build customer relationships.
Waikato District Council: Customers at the heart of business
A journey to firmly embed a customer-centric philosophy in everything it does has already started to pay dividends for the Waikato District Council. There’s been a big improvement in response times and, as a result, customer satisfaction.
As part of the philosophy, the council set itself a challenge to have the “most engaged community in New Zealand by 2020”.
It is an ambitious target, especially on the back of findings in 2013 that the council wasn’t meeting customers’ needs in terms of response times or working quickly enough over community concerns.
General manager, service delivery, Tim Harty says the first stage of the plan was to empower frontline staff so they could answer questions and customers didn’t feel they were getting the run around.
To achieve this, there was a need for better information sharing between technical and frontline staff through means such as ensuring the “knowledge tree” was well updated about issues.
“We streamlined the online process and reduced the levels of bureaucracy, reducing the number of categories for service agreements from around 200 to 20.”
The streamlined process also meant changing the way the council worked with contractors.
“For instance, when a call comes in about a leaky toby the information will now be directed straight to our contractors for action rather than delaying the process as we had in the past by [needing to have] one of our staff turn up to inspect it first.”
Other initiatives include electronic logging for requests for service.
The results have been positive. Feedback is showing an increase in customer satisfaction and surveys show improved metrics around questions like how easy it is to do business with the council.
Tim acknowledges this has been a big mindset change for the council but one that was needed because “without customers we don’t exist – there’s no other reason for this business”.
This article was first published in the April 2017 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.