October 2018: This is your utility calling…

What happened down in Texas?
Last Monday Austin Water (AW) issued an unprecedented city-wide boil water notice as its water treatment facilities dealt with a historic amount of debris from upstream flooding.

AW’s treatment capacity usually runs around 300 MGD but the debris reduced that volume to ~105 MGD. To make matters trickier, demand was running at about ~120 MGD, so AW and the Mayor asked residents to cut consumption by 15-20% to maintain water pressure and supply for emergency services.

To get a sense of things, check out these photos of Lady Bird Lake in Downtown Austin. Truly remarkable.

 How did people respond?
Social media (predictably) went a little crazy, and bottled water sales spiked – but calm under pressure was the status quo. Austin Water staff and Dropcountr were quick to communicate and support customers across social networks, in the news and on the ground.

Also, it was heartening to see neighbors helping out neighbors: breweries boiling water en masse to support local businesses, residents checking in on the elderly, even neighbor San Antonio Water System sent up a fleet of water trucks to support demand. Talk about hospitality.

An exercise in demand-response
It’s not often water utilities need to reduce service-wide consumption as quickly as AW needed to; typically the long-view is taken, in response to extended-drought or new development.

This event in Austin is a stark reminder of the importance of customer communication channels and building your customer relationship. It also highlights AW’s preparation for an emergency of this magnitude – major kudos are due to staff and management.

Dropcountr has supported Austin Water with customer portals and communication software since 2015. To learn more about our program please reach out to ganesh@dropcountr.com


➣ A status 12 years in the making (3 minute read)
Last Tuesday President Trump signed America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which lifts WaterSense – that little program saving Americans more than $68 billion with a B on water and energy bills – from its status as a “discretionary” program to federal legal status. This is a huge win for the EPA and the Alliance for Water Efficiency. Nicely done all!

➣ WSI 2018
Another fantastic year at the Southpoint! We want to give a congrats to Dropcountr partner Austin Water for their G480 platinum certification (learn more about that accreditation here) and a shout out to Mary Ann Dickinson and Stephanie Zavala from Rogue Water (aka one half of the H2duO) for joining our discussion re: supporting your Spanish-speaking customers. Thank you!

➣ More Wonkiness
Hot off the heels of WSI we booked it to Palm Springs to present research about using data to target communications and drive conservation.
What day of the week are customers most responsive?
What type of messages *click* with customers?
What don’t?

Pretty nerdy (and highly useful!) research, but the audience response was overwhelmingly positive – thank you to those in attendance. We’re sharing the deck here. Feel free to reach out to ganesh@dropcountr.com if your utility is interested in learning more about how, where and when your customers are most responsive


What’s happening at Dropcountr

In case you’ve been under a rock, we’d like to make a formal introduction of our aforementioned friends the H2duO and their podcast Water in Real Life.

We’ve had the pleasure of sharing a stage, a podcast, a beverage and many laughs with these two over the past several months and wholeheartedly encourage you tune in to their Podcast every Monday morning. You can start with their recent conversation with our founder and CEO, Robb = )

Stay tuned!
Kellock + Team Dropcountr

Denver Water Case Study

Denver Water has piloted varying engagement strategies to educate customers about their personal usage and reduce overall consumption and better understand what channels are most effective ($/AF) for conservation communication and engagement. In 2017 Denver Water piloted Dropcountr’s customer portal, HOME, as part of this ongoing engagement strategy.

unhappy customers

September 2018: You ask me to conserve and then raise my rates?

You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again
Customers are confounded by the usage-restriction and rate-increase one-two punch. “Am I being penalized for conservation? Why should I conserve or even listen if you’re just going to raise my rates? It’s as much a communication challenge as it is a financial and conservation issue.

Preparing your staff for those calls
The Alliance for Water Efficiency previously tackled part of this “cost of water” question with the Water, What You Pay For video. This time they teamed up with the California Water Efficiency Partnership and Los Angeles DWP to provide a clear, data-supported answer to the conserve-to-raise-rates dilemma. The net? Customer bills are 26.7% lower today than they would have been without LADWP’s efficient rates and conservation efforts – check out the whitepaper here.

Let’s weigh the costs
How many customers do their research on the cost of water? How loudly will they howl? How much time will this cost customer service reps? Communicating with, educating, and making your customers feel supported now might be the best way to avoid pains later, especially if your service area is prone to frequent usage restrictions or rate hikes.

It’s all about delivery
The 2018 J.D. Power Water Utility Residential Satisfaction study came out earlier this year (here’s the preview) and ‘frequent communication’ continues to support higher levels of satisfaction. Use all your channels, but don’t forget about mobile – it’s the cheapest, most effective means of engaging your customers and defusing those tough conversations.

Dropcountr helps utilities build positive relationships with their customers by way of an intuitive and powerful customer portal. To request a product demonstration, reach out to ganesh@dropcountr.com


A Texan, a Mexican, a Palestinian and an Israeli walk to a river (10 minute read)
Call it family therapy for water negotiators. This wonderful piece from the Texas Observer and Quartz explore the complexities of border water and how people can work together in a hotter, drier world.

Could water utilities evolve the way the electric sector did? (5 minute read)
Existing water systems are highly centralized and supported by old-fashioned financing models. But what if instead of simply replacing the physical infrastructure and financing mechanisms, the sector reinvented them?

The digital utility:customer relationship – what to do and when (5 minute read)
This small utility in New England has a trick or two up their sleeve on improving customer service and satisfaction. Hint: going digital helps and the best day to start was yesterday.  


What’s happening at Dropcountr
We are thrilled to present at WSI in two weeks with Mary Ann Dickinson and the H2Duo about supporting your Spanish-speaking customers; come on out with questions and ideas! Here’s the sessions list

We’ll also be sharing data-driven communication strategies at the Colorado Waterwise and Cal/Nevada AWWA Fall Conference (session list) next month.

Stay tuned! More coming shortly
Kellock + Team Dropcountr

digital utility

The digital utility:customer relationship – what to do and when

Things are moving fast
Like the toad in the boiler, it’s sometimes hard to appreciate how quickly software is changing our day-to-day activities. Teens are delaying getting a driver’s license in lieu of Uber or Lyft, payment apps like Venmo and Google Pay are replacing the exchange of cash, and cord-cutting, i.e. cancelling your cable package because #internet, has tripled since 2013.

Water utilities are doing their part to evolve and meet customers’ steadily changing expectations with services like customer portals that provide a customer’s usage and sometimes provide an online bill pay option. This is an important, albeit elemental and often static, step in improving a utility’s customer service and processes. The next step a utility can take to reduce costs and improve satisfaction is to use those existing services and start proactively communicating.

“Residents may experience water issues this week as hydrants are being flushed.”
How many calls does your customer service team field just about hydrant flushing? Well-funded organizations can dodge these with door-hangers, but sometimes teams are limited to social media, the local radio and grit.

Dedham Westwood Water District (DWWD) serves 13,500 New England homes and businesses outside of Boston and was the recipient of a generous grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to implement Dropcountr. Now in the second year of service, Executive Director Eileen Commane and her team are using targeted and immediate utility-to-customer digital communication to pre-emptively alert their customers to activities in the towns of Dedham and Westwood, such as hydrant flushing and pipe repair.

Annual hydrant flushing can lead to many customer service calls from our residents, alarmed by discolored water. It typically takes us about six weeks complete the exercise, which means a lot of calls,” said Eileen Commane, Executive Director of Dedham Westwood Water District, “Historically we’ve posted this announcement on our website or in the local press, to stay ahead of the calls – but this assumes people are checking the website or consistently paying attention and remembering what’s announced in the media – a tall order

“The staff strives to minimize customer inconvenience – but in the case of flushing, impacted areas are difficult to predict. It’s not that we haven’t been proactive about flushing announcements in the past – we simply didn’t have the ability to communicate directly with the customer in a timely fashion – six weeks is a long time.

“With Dropcountr, our staff are able to easily send targeted messages to the specific neighborhoods we’re working when we’re working them. That’s when the flushing maintenance really may impact them. Who wants to be on alert for six weeks when the laundry is piling up? Our staff report this direct approach has led to fewer customer calls and our customers have noted that they like receiving these proactive messages.”

So what? 
Proactive communication isn’t groundbreaking, but has historically been expensive (paper) and not effective (messages posted to the utility website) Not so, in the era of digital communication.
The best thing a customer service team can do now, to benefit their team today and down the road, is to start building that digital utility: customer relationship. Your customers are online, they just might not be online with you.

Start accruing emails (the smart utility would require at least an email, if not a cell phone); push your customers to online bill pay; invest in a website that is navigable; take it a step further and invest in a customer portal that facilitates (and automates) many of the functions that currently sink your customer service bandwidth – these are all steps that can be reasonably implemented and result in long-term efficiency and cost-savings.

Where are we flushing this week? Can we send them a heads up?
What customers are routinely late on their bills? Can we send them a reminder before its due?
What areas are affected by system outages? Will a change in messaging avoid inbound calls?

As you can imagine, proactive communication – as opposed to reactive – is easier to budget and manage. Dropcountr makes it easy to identify areas or behaviors of interest to facilitate engagement before it becomes a cost or time sink and will only become more useful over time. The march of technology isn’t steady – it’s rapidly accelerating and opening the door to operation efficiencies for utility staff.

Get your customers online! Your future team thanks you!

The Dropcountr program is made available to Westwood and Dedham residents as part of a pilot project funded by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection under Water Management Act regulations to promote water awareness and conservation. The project is a cooperative effort of the Dedham-Westwood Water District, Charles River Watershed Association and the Neponset River Watershed Association and we at Dropcountr are so grateful! 🙏🏼

augmented reality

July 2018: It’s More Than Just An App

Bringing the watershed to your local tabletop
There’s a ton of stories to cover this month, but the one that really (shamelessly) caught our attention is the augmented reality app WWF released called Free Rivers. Free Rivers brings a watershed to your closest flattest surface and takes viewers through water’s journey – evaporation, flooding, the building and removal of dams, even a river-rafting mini-game. This experience is truly something special – give it a go!

Educators, parents, citizens take note
This app is representative of the type of services that not only educates viewers but also leads to meaningful behavior change. The WWF has provided an environment where anyone can explore ecosystem roles and consequences. It’s engaging, it’s personalized, you can almost touch it!

Put it in their hands
What WWF has created is similar to the type of engaging experience delivered at Dropcountr. We haven’t built out an augmented reality experience (yet! Imagine the opportunities!), but we’ve started building the digital bridge that connects utilities with their customers in a way that is instructive, educational and supportive.

The Dropcountr team had way too much fun bringing Free Rivers to the office. In our spare time we also serve hundreds of thousands of utility customers with our mobile and desktop apps. To request a product demonstration, reach out to us at team@dropcountr.com


Plug Pulled on Program Paying Farmers to Conserve CO River Water (5 minute read)
The pilot program (we wrote about in September 2017) began paying ranchers and farmers in 2015 to fallow fields and let water run down the river system toward Lake Powell. That program is being put on hold.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s legacy of water (7 minute read)
Governor Hickenlooper started as the Mayor of Denver before moving to the Governor’s office.  In January he’ll leave 15 years of service making Colorado water a core policy issue. The Journal takes a look at Hick’s legacy.

The $3 Billion Plan To Turn Hoover Dam Into a Giant Battery (9-minute read)
This takes the cake for most ambitious plan of the month. LADWP is proposing pumping CO River water back upstream and behind Hoover Dam– with solar and wind turbine generated power – effectively turning the legendary dam into a giant renewable battery. 

What’s happening at Dropcountr
The summer heat can’t slow this team down! Dropcountr presented at the CalWEP-hosted “peer-to-peer” learning session in San Francisco late last month before running off to Vegas for the AWWA Annual Conference. Dropcountr was a featured partner in this month’s AWE newsletter and our very own Austin Water received platinum certification on the G480 standard, nicely done!!

Also, Florida 🌴☀💦 Pompano Beach we are thrilled thrilled thrilled to partner with you!

Talk to everyone soon, enjoy what remains of summer!
Team Dropcountr

Dropcountr Helps Diverse Communities Reach More Customers – AWE Newsletter

To communicate effectively, water utilities must adapt messaging and materials to the unique needs of their customers. There is already a great deal of marketing advice aimed at increasing customer engagement–from split testing emails to conducting focus groups, but for many communities, that means thinking about how to communicate with an increasingly diverse customer base in their native language, or language of choice.

See the article here: Dropcountr Helps Diverse Communities Reach More Customers

What Is a Water Utility in a Digital World? – WaterFM

One of the top priorities for a utility is its customers. Improving overall customer experience involves both transparent engagement and the delivery of cost-efficient, reliable services. Sharing data and data insights via machine learning with customers could help to build trust even if the utilities share information not favorable to utility operations, such as outages or water quality issues.

Read the article here: What Is a Water Utility in a Digital World?