A Reminder on World Water Day

A flow test is completed for a proposed water supply for a school in Waslala, Nicaragua.

By Aqua President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Franklin

Every year, the United Nations’ World Water Day serves as a reminder that access to clean, safe water is a struggle for many communities throughout the world. For 663 million people – double the number of people living in the United States – water sources may be scarce, contaminated or far away. In fact, many people trek to streams and rivers with buckets and horses to carry home enough water for just one day.

This World Water Day, I’m reflecting on Aqua America’s mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource - water, and the part our employees are playing to bring quality drinking water to homes in other areas of the world.

Our efforts to make a positive difference stem from a combination of our corporate giving and volunteerism programs. It’s part of my commitment, our senior team’s commitment, and our employees’ commitment to be caring corporate citizens for the neighborhoods we serve, and those internationally that can benefit from our expertise.

So in 2016, we took our mission global and partnered with Villanova University to provide better access to water in communities in Nicaragua and Panama.  

In Nicaragua, we are working with Villanova engineering professors and students, as well as the local community, to build a water distribution system for the people in Kasquita. Currently, the 140 people living in this very isolated town use surface water from one of three nearby streams for all their needs.

A flow test is completed on the two springs that combined make up one water source for Kasquita, Nicaragua.

Aqua employees were on site in Kasquita earlier this month to participate in the groundbreaking on this project. During the trip, we worked to provide the rock base for two spring sources, which will act as the main water supply for the town, and surveyed the town to see if higher elevation homes could potentially be served by the system.

The location where our group stayed, which is home to a couple and their seven children. 

While this project will take a while to complete, we are excited at the prospect of providing a fully-functioning water distribution system to people who need it. For the people of Kasquita, this project is life-changing. Not only will it eliminate the need to use surface water, it will create a household connection to each home in the town. It’s also transformative for the Aqua employees participating in the project. They have lived and worked with the families who will be served by the water system, learning from them and listening to the appreciation they have firsthand.

The backyard and water source of a home in Kasquita, Nicaragua.

While this project is just in the beginning stages, it certainty won’t be the last project we have in Nicaragua. Aqua team members are already participating in project evaluations to provide reliable, clean water to the children’s local school centers. 

In Panama, we are working with Villanova to enhance a water system currently providing water on an alternating basis to half the population in the town of Agua Fría every other day. Over the 2016 holiday season, we provided supervision as Villanova students and local community members fixed a water collection tank, removing concerns of structural integrity and the potential for leaks. Now that the tank repairs are in place, we plan to join Villanova in an upcoming trip to Panama to replace supply lines that will allow each household in the community to have access to water each and every day.

Not only will the people of these remote regions in Nicaragua and Panama have daily access to running water in their homes, but the water will also be filtered to ensure it is potable for cooking, drinking, cleaning, bathing and so on. This eliminates any potential health risks from surface water that can be contaminated with chemicals, particulates and bacteria.

It’s important to me that we share our time, treasure and talents to make the world a better place. It’s is humbling to work with Villanova University to provide mentorship to the next generation of engineers and to bring water to more people.  Last week, four students presented their project work at a lunch n’ learn event for our employees. Hearing these budding engineers talk about how our projects are leading them down new service-oriented paths they never imagined allows us to recognize that we’re making a difference in central America, and also, in the lives of these students.

The next generation of Villanova University engineers shared their experiences with Aqua in Bryn Mawr.

Access to clean, safe water is something many of us take for granted. On World Water Day, I challenge you to consider the ways you use water, and reflect on how you can join with us to protect Earth’s most essential resource.

 

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Communications Manager Donna Alston Explores the Relationship Between Social Media and the Customer Experience

Hey! Who Opened That Door?

I recently had the privilege to be part of a panel of communications professionals who were charged with dropping knowledge about social media and the customer experience on a group of students studying communications at my alma mater, Temple University. My first thought was that because the audience was primarily millennials, that they should likely be dropping social media knowledge on me.

After I pulled myself together, I remembered that the topic was really about the customer experience and how it has been impacted by social media. Feeling a bit more confident, I began to think about just that. One of the most significant impacts of social media is that it has made everything public. No more private showing or sharing of anything that has been documented in any way, for anyone, anymore—and probably never again. Terms like, “behind closed doors” and “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” are now officially anachronisms.

But what has this truth meant for the customer experience? On the business/service provider side of that experience, it means that customer service is no longer solely seated in the “customer service department” because now, the entire world has a bird’s-eye view of that customer experience. What used to take place between one customer and one service representative via a secure landline is now on the internet for everyone to see. Many customers are less likely to use landlines (which are nearly anachronisms) to call a service provider, than they are to use cell phones to Tweet their issues, airing them on companies’ social media sites—which could easily be the most massive of all mass media.

This thought alone can be daunting, particularly when you consider that most customers only connect with customer service when there is a problem. So how are businesses to handle this still-rather-new, very public customer experience?

When I think about the answer, I’m reminded of my childhood and my parents in particular, who taught me to always be on my best behavior. And make no mistake about it, there was no compromise on that mandate when in public. I’d better not embarrass them when we were in public—because my behavior was a direct reflection of their parenting skills and an implication of what took place in our home.

In much the same fashion, companies should always have their best face forward when managing customer issues on social media (and elsewhere). When they don’t, just like with the misbehaved child, they leave the public wondering what’s going on at home. Who is minding that store?

Customer issues raised on social media should be handled with the same promptness, courtesy, concern, and attention we would provide to our most loved family member. Their handling should reflect the company’s brand and values, and embody its mission, because just like the child, it provides an indication of what’s going on inside the business and what is taking place with their operations.

There is already an inherent relationship between customer service and operations, which is often the primary source of information needed to reply to customer queries. However, customer service professionals charged with managing the social customer experience would be greatly served by consulting their company’s communications professionals. Social “media” has created a nexus where customer service and communications meet. I suggest that the best social customer experience is one that is informed by customer service and communications professionals. The icing on the cake comes when both of these groups have complete and consistent access to their peers in operations who are keeping the business running.

Operations professionals ensure that the information needed to provide the right answers and appropriate solutions to customers is made available to the customer service team. They should also provide notice of potential issues in a timely fashion so that customer service can proactively alert customers about potential problems when appropriate. These decisions should be made with input from the communications team. Customer service professionals ensure that responses are delivered promptly and contain information that will actually resolve the issues, and that proactive messages are delivered when needed. Communications professionals ensure that all messages are consistent with the company’s brand, values and mission.

When the customer service/communications nexus is synced and fed consistent and comprehensive information from operations, it doesn’t matter that the door is open and your company’s customer experience is taking place in public. Why? Because now, like that well-behaved child, your company is on its best behavior, leaving little or no room for anyone to wonder what’s going on at home or who is minding that store.

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Aqua's Erin Feeney Recognized for Outstanding Mentorship

 

Congratulations are in order for Erin Feeney, a Financial Analyst in Rates and Planning at Aqua, who has been named the 2016 Volunteer of the Year by Junior Achievement of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Junior Achievement (JA) is the world's largest organization dedicated to empowering students to own their economic success through programs focusing on work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. The organization recognized Feeney for her service during the 2015-2016 school year and her outstanding dedication to furthering JA's mission.

 

Feeney was the lead volunteer for Impress, a student-run start-up company founded by local teen entrepreneurs. The company was composed of approximately 25 students from Haverford High School, Upper Darby High School, St. Joseph's Prep, Radnor High School, Phoenixville Area High School, Woodlynde School, Great Valley High School, Science Leadership Academy, and Central Bucks High School West. The student group took home top honors at the JA National Student Leadership Summit on June 22 in Washington D.C. after competing against 15 other finalist companies from JA chapters across the country.


 

Feeney led a team of nine Aqua volunteers who mentored the students weekly at Aqua's Bryn Mawr offices as they developed and executed a business plan to sell a variety of personalized press metal products. The students brainstormed ideas, raised capital, elected officers, and developed an annual report, marketing materials and a formal presentation about their company. 

"This year the mission of the competition was 'enjoy the journey,' and our talented group of student entrepreneurs did just that," said Feeney. "In 16 short weeks, the students started and successfully ran a profitable company with support from me and eight other Aqua volunteers. It was incredibly rewarding to watch these students mature and develop their business skills, both individually and as a team."

 


Feeney says she is honored to receive the award, but she wouldn't have had a successful year without her fellow volunteers and the passionate students on the team.

"My fellow volunteers also deserve a lot of credit, as well as the senior management team, who not only allowed us to use Aqua's facilities throughout the competition, but also supported the program and our efforts to mentor the students," Feeney explained. 

 

 Feeney with fellow volunteers Scott Szczygiel and Greg Galiffa.

Feeney's involvement with JA began four years ago when her mentor was involved with the program. She has been the lead volunteer for the last two years and has loved working with dedicated team members and groups of motivated students. 

"Aqua is proud to partner with Junior Achievement to provide mentorship and real-world business skills to local students," says Aqua Chief Financial Officer Dave Smeltzer. "We are especially proud of Erin and all of our employee volunteers, who have given up countless hours of their personal time to lend their business acumen to such a worthwhile organization." Smeltzer is a member of the JA of Southeastern Pennsylvania board of directors.


Congratulations to Erin Feeney on her well-deserved recognition!

  

 

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Customer Service Week Spotlight: Sarah Camargo

We’re on to day two of Customer Service Week here at Aqua! All week long, we’ll spotlight our exceptional customer service representatives, giving them a chance to share the ins and outs of their experiences. Today’s customer service representative spotlight falls on Sarah Camargo. Let’s get to know her!

 

How long have you been with Aqua? 

I’ve been with Aqua since November 2006, so nearly 10 years. Time flies!

What is it like to interact with Aqua’s customers? What makes them unique? 

There’s never a dull moment when interacting with our customers. Since we take calls from customers in various states, we encounter a wide range of personalities. You would think after working here for nearly 10 years that I would have heard it all, but that’s not the case. 

 

We get inquiries that range from water distribution to what our field technicians are working on, so I’m always happy to serve as a human encyclopedia for them!

What is the most rewarding thing about working in customer service?

I live for customer satisfaction. When we can help and lift an enormous weight off their shoulders, it makes our job incredibly fulfilling. 

 

Has working with Aqua’s customers impacted your life outside the workplace? How so?

I never want to speak over the phone anymore! Since I’m on the phone all day with customers or other Aqua employees, I try my hardest to never use it when handling personal matters. If I can do it online, I will. I tell my friends and family to text me rather than call, if possible. The rare times I do have to talk to somebody on the phone, I accidentally end the call with, “Thank you for calling Aqua!” 

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Meet Aqua Indiana’s Yan Ma, Chinese Folk Dancer, as She Celebrates the Year of the Sheep

February marks the Chinese New Year — 2015 is the Year of the Sheep — so there is no better time to get to know Aqua Indiana employee Yan Ma, a Chinese native who will celebrate her fifth anniversary with Aqua this August. 

As a financial accountant based in Aqua Indiana’s Indianapolis offices, Yan is responsible for Aqua Indiana’s monthly, quarterly and annual internal financial reporting, in addition to reporting to regulatory agencies.

Yan moved to the U.S. from China 18 years ago. After graduating from Ball State University with a B.S. and M.S. in accounting, she held positions with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, Bankers Conseco Life and Ernst & Young, to name a few, before coming to Aqua.

When Yan isn’t dealing with numbers, she is getting in touch with her more creative side, sharing her culture through the art of Chinese folk dancing and singing. In fact, she has performed in many Chinese festivals in the Indianapolis area and is also a member of a local Chinese choir. Yan has been performing since 2002, when she first moved to Indianapolis. Her performances, she explains, allow her to build a bridge connecting her Eastern and Western cultures.

“Singing and dancing to my culture’s music helps me relax and relieves my homesickness, and most importantly, it is fun,” says Yan. “My dance team consists of professionals from within different industries including scientists, accountants, IT engineers, etc. I love dancing with these fine individuals and sharing my cultural background with local communities through various performances,” Yan says.

Yan also participates in half-marathons and loves to travel, embracing every culture along the way. She strives to be a global citizen in everything that she does.

Yan’s favorite water activity — aside from working in the water industry, of course — is to watch her children’s swimming lessons. She and her husband of 22 years, Mark, have two one-year-old twins.

Yan enjoys getting to know employees she doesn’t usually work with, so take the time to get to know her as she dances her way into a new year!

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