Water Efficiency May 2014 : Page 50
GUEST COMMENTARY | TODD A. BREHE Eight Practices for Implementing a Water Utility Customer Portal How to create a successful one that engages, informs, and serves STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO week in the northwest mountains of Colorado, with temperatures dropping well below freezing. Two and a half feet of snow had blanketed the city of Steamboat Springs over the last couple weeks. Many of the homes in the city are used as vacation rentals, so it wasn’t uncommon for them to be vacant periodically. Leaks and burst pipes were a com-mon occurrence in this resort town. So much so that one of the local water providers decided to launch a customer portal with leak detection and notifi ca-tion capabilities. Th eir goals included: enabling customers to see their water usage anytime, identifying potential leaks faster, alerting customers quickly, and minimizing unnecessary water losses. Th e water utility had already installed a fi xed-base Advanced Meter-ing Infrastructure (AMI) system that could record daily meter reads remotely. But customers had no visibility into their own usage except aft er they received their monthly water bills. Th e portal would improve this situation by enabling customers to access and benefi t from data and information in the AMI system. Now customers could log in to a password-protected website, view their water consumption, see an estimate of their bill, set usage thresholds, and more. IT WAS A PARTICULARLY cold An analytics engine built into the portal evaluates water usage data looking for patterns that indicate water leaks or abnormal usage. ge. When an issue is detected, the utility ility can alert customers by phone call, text, t or e-mail using the system’s notifi cation capabilities. During the cold spell, the utility’s customer service team identifi ed a prop-erty that had high water usage. A sup-port representative called the customer, only to learn he was traveling and not at his home. He asked his cleaning service to check out the situation. A house-keeper walked around the home looking for signs of leaks and checking for run-ning toilets. She didn’t fi nd anything and reported as much. Th e next day, the customer service team fl agged the same property again for high consumption. Th ey made a second call. Th is time the homeowner asked his maintenance man to investi-gate. He verifi ed that there wasn’t any water being used inside the home, but he did inspect the water meter and saw that it was recording usage. A thor-ough check outside the house revealed something almost unbelievable. A hose bib on the side of the home had a large crack in it. Apparently, a heavy icicle had fallen from the roof and hit the pipe just right. Because snow had piled up against the house, the hose bib damage and the resulting leak were concealed from view. In a couple days, nearly 7,000 gallons of water had drained to the ground. Without notifi cation from the water provider, the leak probably would have run for days/weeks unnoticed. Until, of course, the owner received one memorable bill. Customer portal soft ware is an emerging technology for water utilities. Commonly referred to as consumer engagement, customer engagement, or Web presentment solutions, these systems are already widely used by gas and electric providers because they off er tools to help customers manage their utility usage, control costs, and conserve. Water utilities are realizing that portal solutions can improve customer service, enable customers to answer their own questions (and thereby reduce call center traffic), minimize high bill surprises and complaints, prevent unnecessary resource loss, and enhance customer communications. By helping clients manage their water consumption and notifying them when leaks may be occurring, water 50 WATER EFFICIENCY WWW.WATEREFFICIENCY.NET
Guest Commentary: Todd A. Brehe
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