The water sector, like the entire Utility sector, is going through a phase of profound change. The challenges are complex and unprecedented, and it is more urgent than ever to focus on best practices to overcome them. Here are some valuable tips. Essential services, which affect everyone’s daily lives, are almost always taken for granted. They are not “sexy,” they’re often not the type of services on which it’s easy to build strong branding or storytelling, or at least this was what we thought until a few years ago. Today, however, things have profoundly changed. In this article, we will look at the water sector and see how important at the role of marketing and communication has become in dealing with this period of turmoil and change, and the new challenges, risks, and opportunities that companies must deal with. The profound changes that have affected the water sector are part of a much broader picture, that of the entire Utility Industry, that has experienced an unprecedented revolution in recent years. In fact, the almost monopolistic regime in which a few large companies shared a very rigidly regulated and almost impenetrable market is over. Today the playing field is wide open; the players have multiplied and the competition to acquire new market shares (or not to lose them) has become difficult, complex and constantly changing. The keywords of the sector have changed. Today, the focus is on sustainability and energy efficiency, on transparency and simplicity of communication between user and company, on technology, and therefore on digital transformation. But the pivotal aspect of this revolution is the customer, who is no longer a simple number among other numbers, but the real center around which the business revolves, the real assets and added value for companies that provide gas, energy, and water. This is why marketing, communication, and customer care departments are gaining importance in the Utility industry, and in the water sector in particular. There are many challenges of the present moment, even more so those that are on the horizon. As always, there are also many opportunities behind these complex challenges.
Challenges for the water sector
In a landscape that has seen a real paradigm shift over a relatively short time period, the challenges are many, and they are complex. First of all, there is the technological challenge, which concerns both the infrastructure and distribution of the commodity and above all the management of communication processes between company and customer. At the base of this challenge is the analysis of “big data“. It is now essential, that companies in all sectors are able to analyze the enormous amount of data available relating to users and their characteristics, their behaviors, and the way they use the services offered. In order to do this effectively, it is important to use the right tools and set up dynamic and “intelligent” metrics (think of smart metering). And, it is in this context that includes IoT, the Internet of Things. “In the near future, Big Data, cloud, artificial intelligence, and IoT will be able to do what we can’t even imagine today, opening new horizons and new business areas in the Utility sector, with a view toward services that are personalized and usable by users of Utility services,” said Moreno Mazzoni, CTO of Nextre, a web marketing and strategic consulting company. These personalized services are as tailored as possible to the customer, modelled on his unique characteristics and his individual behavior. This is where the most important challenge of all lies for companies in the water sector (and Utilities in general): in other words, to increase the quality and efficiency of customer care. A study conducted by Jaywing found that as many as 73% of marketers actively involved in this sector identify the improvement of customer care strategies as an absolute priority for the business agenda. This is not surprising. For example, consider what recently emerged in the Customer Experience Impact Report, which reported that 89% of Utility industry users move to competitors because of problems and obstacles in the customer experience. F urther, 86% are willing to pay more in return, again, for a better experience of assistance and dialog with the company. Finally, 65% of the sample analyzed argued that a positive experience with a brand is much more important and influential than any type of advertising campaign (source). So you can see why the main challenge is here: Companies must learn how to communicate with users in a one-to-one, omnichannel and interactive way. In this way, one of the traditionally slippery touchpoints becomes a formidable tool of dialog, of possible upselling and cross-selling actions and, above all, and a way to increase customer retention and loyalty. Finally, this is also reflected in a positive image for the companies. T his has a positive impact on brand identity, which is another of the most important challenges for companies in this sector. So, summarizing: technology and big data; customer care and customization; maximum attention to the restructuring of its brand identity. These are the main – and complex – challenges that the industry of the water sector is facing. To do this, we propose some best practices that begin to emerge in this complex and changing landscape.
Creating partnerships, knowing how to communicate, knowing how to tell a story
In a scenario that has undergone such rapid and radical changes, it is strategic and almost vital to identify suitable best practices that are as up-to-date as possible. In this sense, we are helped by one of the most authoritative international bodies in the sector, the American Water Works Association (AWWA), which at its most recent annual conference gathered around three concrete guidelines the main best practices that emerged from the analysis of the sector.
- The first point to focus on is the need for companies in the sector to create partnerships, even (and especially) outside the boundaries of their sector. This is also discussed in this article published on McKinsey’s blog. This is a dynamic that can also positively reverberate on the brand identity, and provide opportunities for up-selling and cross-selling actions (of which we have talked extensively here).
- The second point concerns the absolute need for organizations to re-learn how to communicate with their users and do so in a 24/7 perspective and in omnichannel mode. This can be done through efficient online help desks, but also with dedicated apps, and by being able to exploit the power of social networks in a positive way. In short, the days of inefficient customer call centers are over. “It is no longer conceivable that the only moment of dialogue with the customer is when something goes wrong when he has some problem, or when it’s time for your company to collect,” said Kelly Dearing Smith of Louisville Water Company. In short, we are going in the direction we indicated above: the customer must be at the center, and we must try to “communicate” with him, and do it in a way that is custom-made, personalized and “one-to-one.”
- The third and final point, which in the end comes directly from those set out above, is the need to rethink your brand identity and to base it on environmental responsibility, on transparency towards one’s own client (who wants to be more and more involved and informed), on full digitization.
In this field, it must be a priority to pay attention to “aesthetic” components as well. After all, it is necessary to be able to provide information in the most effective way; to do so the most powerful tool is undoubtedly that of the video.
To learn more about best practices and trends impacting the water and utilities sector, download our free infographic.