How SA Water is meeting changing customer expectations

Posted 12 September 2018

Customer engagement is a continual processIn order to deliver on its vision of ‘world class water services for a better life’, SA Water is focused on listening to – and learning from – its customers.

Speaking ahead of his address at the Australian Water Association South Australian State Conference, SA Water General Manager of Strategy, Performance and Innovation Jim McGuire said while utilities have always had a customer focus, there is now an understanding that all consumers are different and want services that reflect this.

“Historically, there was an expectation that utilities would determine what customers should reasonably expect as a service or experience. Now, customers want to be thought about in a more individualised way,” he said.

“The expectation is that we know and care about the experiences they receive.”

McGuire said customers today expect personalised service as this is what they are experiencing in other sectors. 

Personalised service interactions across different industries inform what customers expect when dealing with other organisations, including essential services.

“We’re recognising that customer expectations are shaped beyond the water industry with all of their experiences as customers. It might be from a bank, it might be from a retailer, but whatever they see as a great experience changes their expectations of what they’d like from us,” McGuire said.

While SA Water does research and collects data to understand what its customers want, McGuire said the organisation also emphasises personal interactions. This includes having one-on-one conversations with customers and even bringing them in to co-design some of the utility’s products and services.

“There’s a very strong customer focus and we’re working hard to get closer insights in terms of what customers’ expectations are and align these with our business performance,” he said.

The utility has also worked on segmenting and profiling its customers to understand differing needs and deliver more personalised experiences.

“The care piece is really important – customers want to feel that when we engage with them, we’re taking the time to think about their situation … We’re trying to be flexible and empathetic in terms of what’s important to people in different situations,” McGuire said.

“Customer engagement is a continual process; it’s not something you do at a certain point in time and step back from.”

According to McGuire, the ‘better life’ aspect of the utility’s vision statement means recognising it provides an essential service that enhances South Australians’ quality of life. This doesn’t just encompass providing water and sanitation services, but also improving liveability.

This includes initiatives like using recycled water to irrigate open spaces and working with Adelaide Airport to investigate how irrigation can help combat the urban heat island effect.

“We need to ask what we’re doing as an important part of the communities we operate in to ensure we’re sustaining a high quality of life for our customers and the community,” McGuire said.

“It’s really important for us to engage with the community to understand what it is they value and what they’re trying to achieve, and then thinking about where we can find some common ground that supports them and aligns with our business imperatives as well.”

A key part of SA Water’s strategy involves working with stakeholders, including customers, councils, the State Government and businesses to constantly improve and innovate. McGuire said finding new uses for non-potable water is an example of the utility innovating by working with the communities it serves. 

“It’s a continual journey for us. Despite good progress we’re certainly not yet where we want to be, so it’s really important that we continue to be connected and listen to our customers.” 

Jim McGuire will be presenting at the upcoming 2018 South Australian State Conference on leadership in water. To learn more and to register, click here.

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