Celebrating Essential Workers this Customer Service Week

 

By Essential Chairman and CEO Chris Franklin

One of our primary goals at Essential is to ensure that it is easy for our customers to do business with our company – from turning on the tap or stove, to seamlessly paying their bill. But when a customer needs to reach out to Aqua or Peoples, that typically means something is not going according to plan with their service. It’s our frontline customer service representatives’ job to help resolve each issue successfully and efficiently, and make sure that every customer has a positive experience.

Many would say that working directly with customers during a pandemic is a little more difficult and stressful than usual. Yet over the past seven months, our essential frontline employees have delivered impeccable service to customers across our footprint with kindness and grace, going above and beyond the call of duty. This week, in recognition of Customer Service Week, we are celebrating the Essential, Aqua and Peoples employees who interact with our customers on a day-to-day basis and provide not only positive experiences, but deliver essential services to each and every customer. 

Like many other times throughout 2020, the events affecting the world have changed the way we work and interact. We engage with our customers in different ways and from different locations, yet still strive to provide excellent service regardless of a customer’s circumstance. In 2019, we launched a customer survey specific to experiences with our call center and our field services, which has been instrumental in allowing us to stay in touch with our customers. Our customer service employees are able to respond to customer issues appropriately and ensure any unresolved issues are handled timely – which is vital to each customer having a positive experience, especially in a time of national crisis.

Essential has more than 3,000 employees across our 10-state footprint, who are all dedicated to protecting and providing essential resources for more than 5 million people. Our employees know, that when we deliver natural resources and essential services, we are really enabling people to live better, fuller lives. Earlier in 2020, I asked that we thank the essential workers, including healthcare workers, grocery store employees, our frontline utility workers, truck drivers and so many others. I am personally extending that thanks this Customer Service Week, recognizing all of our dedicated employees who work each day to provide an incredible experience for our customers, both directly and behind the scenes. I thank each of them for their dedication to our mission, and to each of our customers, for they are a huge reason for our success. 

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Partnership with Cristo Rey High School benefits students and employees alike

 Aqua's Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School student interns, Mkii Taylor-Baldwin, Jada Harvin and Algenis Duran, with Aqua Chairman & CEO Chris Franklin, Cristo Rey Founder & President John McConnell, and Cristo Rey staff. 

For the third school year in a row, Aqua is hosting student interns from Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, a private, Catholic college-prep school located in North Philadelphia. Four students, one per grade, travel to Aqua’s Pennsylvania facilities one day a week to spend time with various departments to gain an understanding of the working world. Throughout the program, students and employees alike are benefitting from this partnership that Aqua has facilitated with Cristo Rey.

“We are excited to have the Cristo Rey students here,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Chris Kelly. “It’s a great experience for the students and provides them insight into what it’s like working in a business environment. It’s also an impactful experience for our employees; we learn a lot from the students as well.”

Absent from the group photo above is Aqua's fourth Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School student intern, Ianyah Wilson.

Joining Aqua this school year have been freshman Mkii Taylor-Baldwin, sophomore Algenis Duran, junior Jada Harvin and senior Ianyah Wilson. They have put in a few months with Aqua and together are gaining experience across the ACO, IT, finance, accounts payable, fleet and HR departments.

Our sophomore student, Algenis Duran (pictured second from the right in group photo), who is in his second year interning with Aqua, has worked in various departments at the Bryn Mawr office, and will spend the remainder of his school year working with Vice President of Fleet and Supply Chain Management Charlie Stevenson and the fleet department at the company’s Springfield facility. Before transitioning, he shared some of his experiences with the internship program.

I’ve been with Aqua for two years. I spent my freshman year in customer operations and spent a lot of my time working with landlord reverts in Banner as well as a couple other projects. At first, during my time in ACO, I only really talked to the people I sat near and didn’t really interact a lot, but Vickie Carrillo brought me out of my comfort zone by helping me get to know people.

The first half of my sophomore year I worked in different areas of the IT department. It was easy to meet new people, work on various things and discover what I’m interested in. I am looking forward to spending the second half of my sophomore year in Springfield and gaining a larger experience in the company.

My internship with Aqua is part of Cristo Rey’s work-study program. The work-study program is a way for students to get experience in the workplace and helps families pay for their tuition to keep our education affordable. We are placed in departments at companies based on our interests. At the end of my freshman year, I expressed a curiosity in IT, which is why I was placed in that department the first half of my sophomore year. Students have internships all four years, which can help provide us with connections for future jobs and recommendations.

Being a Cristo Rey student isn’t easy, as Cristo Rey isn’t an ordinary school. We are focused on not just getting into college, but graduating college. A lot is expected from us because our teachers want us to know that we can achieve great things.

I wasn’t always planning to attend Cristo Rey High School. I was originally planning on attending Mercy CTE, which is a vocational trade school. I’m glad I decided to attend Cristo Rey and that I could get this amazing experience being on the Aqua team.

 

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Aqua’s commitment to customer experience

 

By Aqua Chairman & CEO Chris Franklin

In October of each year, thousands of companies across the United States and around the world celebrate Customer Service Week to acknowledge the effort of employees who work in the field of customer service. Proclaimed a nationally recognized designation by the U.S. Congress more than 25 years ago, CSW provides us at Aqua an opportunity to honor our incredible employees who work tirelessly each day to provide an excellent experience for our customers, both directly and behind the scenes.

We have a terrific group of talented employees on our Aqua Customer Operations team who are deeply dedicated to effectively engaging with customers each day. These employees carry on a commitment that has been fundamental to our company’s 130-plus year history—so important to Aqua, in fact, that it is an essential element of our company’s vision.  

 

And while we rely on these team members to serve on the front lines of our customer service efforts, we know excellent customer experience requires a company-wide commitment. Our entire workforce is responsible for helping to carry out Aqua’s customer service vision.

Fortunately, we have more than 1,600 employees across our footprint who are dedicated to protecting and providing earth’s most precious resource for our customers, with integrity, respect and excellence. They work toward continuously improving our customer experience  through diligent maintenance on our infrastructure that ensures reliability and avoids service interruptions; testing at Aqua Labs and throughout our service territories to search for potential contaminants in our water supply; enabling the WaterSmart suite of e-billing, alerts and tips that help customers pay bills, learn of service interruptions; responding to customer service requests via  social media through our Aqua social team; and educating customers with campaigns that provide tips including how to properly dispose of fats, oils and grease during the holidays to prevent clogs, water conservation suggestions and how to avoid frozen pipes during cold months.

As part of our ongoing commitment to customers, we have an obligation to constantly improve our processes to respond to changing customer expectations.

This CSW, we celebrate our company’s ongoing commitment to customer service, an incredible ACO team and a workforce that is wholeheartedly dedicated to providing the best possible experience for all Aqua customers.

 

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Shedding light on the state of U.S. water infrastructure

 

From filling up the bathtub to boiling a pot of water to watering the plants, we rely on a ton of water for our daily needs and activities. 

And because water utilities like Aqua work so hard behind the scenes to make it seamless, it can be easy to take Earth’s most essential resource for granted. However, there’s a lot more that goes into our steady and reliable water supply than meets the eye. In fact, sometimes you have to go hundreds of feet underground to see it. 

The intricacies of water infrastructure tend to be out of sight and out of mind for many of us, and we wanted to shed a bit of light on the state of all those systems. So, we talked with Aqua Chairman and CEO Chris Franklin to get the scoop on the state of water infrastructure systems across the United States. 


Aqua Chairman and CEO Chris Franklin (left), employees and board members tour an Aqua facility in Illinois.

You mentioned water infrastructure. What does that look like?

First, let’s go back in time to the beginning of the 20thcentury, which is when the U.S. started laying miles and miles of pipelines deep within the Earth (one million miles, to be exact). These are the pipes that collect water from the ground and surface sources and transport it all the way to your tap. 

The good news is that underground water pipes last up to 100 years, so this infrastructure has provided us with reliable drinking water throughout the past century. The bad news, though, is that a lot of time has passed and those pipes desperately need to be replaced. 

How desperately? 

Well, every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card on the current status of water and wastewater infrastructure across the nation. Let’s just say it wasn’t a report card you’d want to bring home to mom and dad. (Spoiler alert: the United States got a D). 

Here’s the thing: we are facing a very serious water quality challenge in the U.S. due to aging water systems, stringent drinking water and wastewater regulations, and budgetary constraints. The time to take action is now.

Tell me more about this dilemma…

According to Franklin, many aging water systems are falling behind because it’s simply too pricey for communities to upgrade or replace all those old, deteriorating pipelines. And we’re talking big bucks: according to the American Water Works Association, we need about $1 trillion over the next 20 years to get water infrastructure to where it should be. 

Most of the country’s water systems are municipally managed, and the truth of the matter is that municipalities having competing priorities for funds to improve and replace the pipes. They have to prioritize water projects with other needs like schools, police and fire departments, roadways, and bridges, which can be rather tricky. However, prolonging investment in water infrastructure improvements can have serious consequences on the safety and quality of our drinking water over time. 

“Although the challenge to the U.S. water infrastructure is less visible than other infrastructure concerns, it’s no less important,” Franklin reminds us.  


Pipes, pipes, and more pipes: Looks like infrastructure! 

What about Aqua’s water? 

“Since Aqua’s only focus is on water, Aqua customers can feel confident that we are actively updating and upgrading infrastructure to meet the needs of their families and communities,” Franklin says. 

This means new pipes, efficient treatments from the source through the plant, and sturdy storage tanks for all. Additionally, Franklin assures us that because investment in water infrastructure is a key pillar of Aqua’s business strategy, Aqua customers can continue to expect clean, safe, and reliable drinking water and wastewater services

Back to the infrastructure dilemma. There has to be a solution, right?

Thankfully, yes, and that’s where Aqua comes into play. Over the past several decades, Aqua has teamed up with and acquired many municipal and private water companies that are struggling to keep up with their water and wastewater systems and injected some much-needed capital into their aging water systems. 

Plus, when Aqua makes these infrastructure improvements, cost-effectiveness is always kept in mind. That means that we take measures like purchasing pipes in bulk and using scientific approaches to tracking main break history, pipe age and more to ensure that rate increases are kept to a minimum for the benefit of our customers.  

 Our board looks forward to any opportunity to learn more about Aqua’s infrastructure systems.

In just 2017 alone, Aqua invested a ton of money (as in more than $450 million) in water and wastewater infrastructure, and since 2007, Aqua has acquired (and drastically improved) 174 water and wastewater systems. Looking forward, you can expect Aqua to play a leading role in fixing up many of these deteriorating water systems. 

“Aqua is committed to renewing and improving water and wastewater infrastructure through thoughtful and continuous capital investment,” Franklin adds.

 The next time you take a sip of water or wash your hands in the sink, try to remember all the hard-working Aqua team members that are dedicated every day to bring you clean and safe water. See you back here next month, where we’ll reveal the best kept secret to safe, reliable drinking water.  

 

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Aqua President and CEO Chris Franklin talks water infrastructure with national media, congress

 

By Aqua President and CEO Chris Franklin

Over the past few weeks, I had the pleasure of talking with some national news outlets as well as congressional subcommittee members about the state of water infrastructure in America and Aqua’s commitment to investing in our aging water systems.

As you can see in my CNBC’s Squawk Box segment, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, giving U.S. water infrastructure a “D” grade and wastewater infrastructure a “D+.” The reality is that our country has more than 1 million miles of water pipe, much of which was laid in the early 20th century and in critical need of replacement.

While this is a major challenge facing our country, Aqua is working to be a part of the solution. We are committed to renewing and improving water and wastewater infrastructure through thoughtful and continuous capital investment. It’s why Aqua will invest more than $450 million in water and wastewater infrastructure in 2017 alone, after having invested $1.5 billion in capital improvements over the past five years. 

I also spoke with national infrastructure reporters about the importance of letting private capital go to work to assist municipalities struggling with aging water systems, instead of providing federal financing for infrastructure projects. Aqua has a proven record of purchasing both municipal and private water systems, injecting needed capital into the systems and developing the infrastructure required for clean drinking water and wastewater. You can read more about that in my interview with Hilary Russ of Reuters.

As then president-elect of the National Association of Water Companies, I also had the opportunity last month to provide testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives' Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment. I underscored with our elected officials that companies like Aqua and our fellow NAWC member organizations are well-positioned to help cities and towns address long-neglected water and wastewater infrastructure maintenance. It’s my firm belief that we will continue to be part of the solution.

I’m proud that Aqua is playing a leading role in providing solutions for struggling water and wastewater systems. In speaking out on these issues, I hope to continue to raise awareness on the importance of water and wastewater infrastructure in our country and of Aqua’s role as a leader in protecting and providing Earth’s most valuable resource.

 

 

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