By Todd Danielson
Times of significant disruption that put the “normal” way we operate on hold are an incredible opportunity for reflection, pressing the reset button, and starting in a fresh direction. Hopefully, many people are realizing how they have let their lives get so busy that they have lost touch with things most important to them, like family; and they are taking this time to start fresh.
In the water utility world, progressive utilities have been working to develop productive and interactive communications with their customers, with various measures of success, for a decade or two. Now, when the world is partially shut down and there are so many fewer distractions, water utility messages are actually being heard. My water utility, Avon Lake Regional Water, is working to balance getting important information out to our customers while not overwhelming them. We are incredibly excited about posting messages asking our customers to not flush items that could cause clogs and getting dozens of likes and shares:
Similarly, major news organizations such as the LA Times, New York Times, Boston Globe, NBC News, and others are carrying pieces about what to flush and not to flush. This is huge! In this time of global emergency, people are realizing the value of water.
It is important not to let these gains be lost. At Avon Lake Regional Water, we are strategizing our communication plan. We first reassured our customers that we are prepared and that they can feel confident in the quality of their water. Later, we issued a call to action to not flush inappropriate items. Then, we talked about more ways we are working to protect our customers and staff to prevent the spread of the virus. Now, we are showing our customers we care by suspending shutoffs and delaying our billing. We are still finalizing our next communication pieces. They will likely include pieces on ways to stay healthy (such as proper handwashing and sanitation); past projects we have done to prepare for this and other emergencies; and public thanks to our staff who are working 24/7/365 to keep safe, reliable water flowing. With this, we will be enriching our customers’ understanding, strengthening our reputation, and building our brand.
As we finally move past the pandemic, we intend to maintain communications in a way that reinforces the value of water and the value of the services we provide our community. We are an integral part of our community. We are an anchor institution that both protects public health and the environment and supports/enables the economy. The pandemic has shined a light on us, the value of water, and the things we do. Now, it is imperative on us to not fall back in the shadows once this emergency is over. During times like this, people turn to trusted sources for accurate information. We want to be a trusted source to which people turn now and in the future.