Operating a water system is most enjoyable when customers are satisfied with the service. Many water systems are so efficient that customers rarely think about the activities behind the service, while other systems experience temporary or chronic issues that lead to customer dissatisfaction. Regardless of how your system functions with the community, it is important to create a communication channel through which customers can voice complaints and offer feedback. Customer feedback is key to optimizing your service. Read through the sections below for ideas on how to solicit feedback and address customer dissatisfaction.
Soliciting Customer Feedback
A common method for gathering feedback is to offer a feedback form that is easily available to customers. This form could be mailed to customers along with bills and/or set in a prominent location within the utility or administrative offices, local community buildings, or even the village/community store. Make sure customers have the option of submitting the form anonymously if they wish and it clearly states where they should return the form. If most of your customers have access to the internet at home or through their cell phones, you may also want to consider offering an online version of an anonymous feedback form.
Here’s an example Customer Satisfaction Form. This form is written for a specific community with a haul system for treated water, therefore assesses more than customer satisfaction. You still may find relevant questions that you’d like to use for your own customer satisfaction form.
Customers should be able to provide feedback to the utility any time throughout the year. As utility managers, it will be valuable to solicit feedback from your entire customer base on a reoccurring basis (bi-annually, annually, etc.).
Using Feedback to Improve Services
Once you have solicited and received feedback, you may be able to identify some specific sources of frustration for customers. Some examples of actual water system issues that have caused customer dissatisfaction include:
- Low water pressure in one section of town.
- Intermittent failure of the wastewater system.
- Dislike of water appearance, odor or taste.
Some sources of dissatisfaction can be addressed through educational outreach, while others may require repairs or upgrades to the actual system. Once you have determined the source of dissatisfaction, browse through the Resources for Local Leadership section to see if anything addresses your issue. If you don’t see your customers’ particular source of dissatisfaction addressed, please contact us at the National Tribal Water Center so that we may add your unique community concern to our resources.
You may wish to set a SMART goal to address your issue. SMART goals are:
Here’s an example of a SMART goal for a an Alaskan village facing customer dissatisfaction due to intermittent failure of their vacuum sewer system:
SMART Goal: Reduce the number of days without sewer service by 75 percent within one year.
- Specific: The goal is clearly defined.
- Measurable: The community was directly affected by the number of days they went without a functioning wastewater in the past year, so it will be a useful measure to share progress toward this goal.
- Attainable: Due to the complexity and inevitable occasional malfunction of vacuum wastewaters, eliminating days without service completely may not be possible, but the community believes that they can reduce days without service by 75 percent. Their planned methods to attain this goal is by conducting education and outreach, encouraging homeowners to upgrade a specific valve in their toilets.
- Relevant: The goal is directly related to the function and responsibility of the water and wastewater utility to provide consistent and reliable service and uphold customer satisfaction.
- Time-based: The utility plans to spend five months developing outreach materials and securing funding. They will then offer the valves at a subsidized price for a limited time. This subsidization is meant to encourage all homes to upgrade within a time frame of six months, the same time frame the educational outreach will be conducted. They hope to see their goal achieved by the end of one year.
Reporting Back to Customers
Your customers will appreciate knowing that their voices have been heard and that the utility is responding. Let them know that you take their feedback seriously by keeping them updated on the actions you are taking to address their dissatisfaction. Even if your customer base is overall satisfied with the services you provide, it is always worthwhile to inform customers of upgrades to the system or efforts to improve service. Reporting back to customers could take the form of fliers, radio announcement, notices shared with billing statements, and presentation at the school and community centers.