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Including Utility Customers and Stakeholders in Strategic Planning for Customer Satisfaction

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Columbus Water Works (CWW) is a combined water and wastewater utility serving about 250,000 residents of southwestern Georgia. The utility has a history of effectively planning for its future and has completed a comprehensive update of its strategic plan and facility master plans utilizing the Scan-Plan-Do approach. CWW recognizes the need and has pursued the ongoing challenge of communications, tracking, linking, and aligning of business strategies and goals with operational budgets and day-to-day activities. Utilities face a variety of challenges including the need to build and maintain strong relationships with customers as part of meeting and anticipating their expectations. Customer perceptions (positive and negative), and an understanding of why they exist, are an important part of strategic plan formulation, update, and day-to-day utility business.

Effective utility practice is placing the customer relationship as essential, in addition to focusing on competitively and effectively delivering service. So the most effective way to learn what customers really think about its relationship with utility services is simply to ask. Columbus Water Works did just that while updating their strategic plan. In addition to the monthly surveys and a satisfaction index score, CWW designed and added customer focus groups and stakeholder interviews to obtain "up close and personal” perspectives and opinions. The utility also acquired information on customers' perceived value of products and services from residential, business, and regulatory perspectives. The results were reassuring, revealing, and rewarding with several specific strategic opportunities emerging.

This presentation will explore the specific approaches, results, and benefits of customer feedback that could be invaluable to other water and wastewater utilities. Discussion will focus on making the practice of surveys, focus groups and stakeholder interviews part of the utility's ongoing regimen and explore how these approaches affect and support the development and/or improvement of an overall customer service philosophy.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2006-01-01

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