Aqua Indiana Employee Spotlight: Yan Ma


Throughout 2017, Aqua will be highlighting each of our eight states for a month at a time. In March we put a spotlight on Aqua Illinois, and now, for the month of April, our focus is on sharing all about Aqua Indiana. One way we’re sharing our story, is by sharing our employees’ stories.

As a company, we know it’s our employees who make us great! And throughout these state spotlights, we are making an effort to point out some among the many who have interesting and impressive stories to share, both professionally and personally. In Indiana, one such employee is Financial Accountant Yan Ma.

Yan, a Chinese native who moved to the United States 20 years ago, will celebrate her seventh anniversary with Aqua this August. But that’s not all Yan will be celebrating this year! 2017 will mark the year that Yan became a U.S. citizen. Yan is excited about this milestone in her life. This is her story:


What made you want to move to the United States, from China, 20 years ago?

When I was in high school in China, I had a dream to come to America and get my education in the States. This is a land of freedom and opportunity. I knew that if I moved here, worked hard and got a degree, that I could have a better life.

In early 1980s, China opened its door to the Western World. A lot of younger generations had similar dreams of coming to America, and we studied English to carry those out. I had my mind made up that I wanted to give it a shot. I had an uncle who came to the states in the 1960s, so I knew I’d have some family so I wouldn’t feel too lonely in America.

How did you go about making this dream a reality?

I continuously worked on my dream; I self-motivated. I kept working on my English, went to college and graduated with a degree in economics, and got a job in Beijing. Eventually, I left my job and focused on intensive English language training for a year.

During that time, my husband Mark and I worked part-time as translators for Beijing Warner Gear Company, which had a joint venture with Borg-Warner, on a project called the China Action Plan. Through that project, we met some managers and engineers who had graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. My husband and I decided to apply to that school, and were accepted with scholarships. It is highly competitive for someone from China to be granted a visa from the US Embassy to attend school in the states. We were lucky!

Once at Ball State, I started my schooling over in an undergraduate program and earned my Master’s Degree in Accounting, and graduated with honors. My husband has degrees in environmental geology and computer science.

Has your experience in the U.S. been equal to the dream you had?

It’s living up to the dream. America is a melting pot, where people come from all over the world; we have been treated well in America. We have decent jobs; Mark works in programming for Indiana University’s medical school. We have three-year-old twins, Emma and Baron. We love to travel and being a U.S. citizen means you have the passport and ability to travel to most countries without limitations.

Is that one of the reasons you decided to become a U.S. citizen?

It’s one of the reasons, yes. We’ve been here 20 years. Our children were born here and will be raised here. We feel more at home here, and more comfortable working and living here.

What was the process like becoming a U.S. citizen?

It was a long process, so we started off completing one step at a time. I was eligible to apply to be a citizen in 2013. China doesn’t allow you to have dual citizenship, so I knew once this was complete, I’d no longer be a Chinese citizen, which is a little hard. Now when I want to visit family, I must get a Visa to China. We mentally prepared ourselves for that piece of this while going through the process.

I found out recently that I passed the final process of this, the interview. Now I just have to wait to be told when I can attend the ceremony, in the courtroom, to document and make my journey official. That should take place in the next month or two.

Do you plan to celebrate?

Absolutely! My husband is also getting his citizenship, so we will celebrate together.

What does completing this process, and being named a U.S. citizen mean to you?

I am getting excited; it will be a great milestone in my life. Becoming a citizen means other significant changes in my life, such as being eligible to vote, and not having to worry about being deported.

While I am proud to be named a U.S. citizen, I will continue to celebrate the bridge I’ve established that connects my Eastern and Western cultures through the art of Chinese folk dancing and singing. Check out Yan’s Aqua blog on her experiences performing in Chinese festivals.


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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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Customer Service Week Spotlight: Leslie Torres

Last but certainly not least, we have one final Customer Service Week interview to close out our week of celebrations. Today’s featured representative is Leslie Torres!


How long have you been with Aqua?
I have been with Aqua for 10 years as of September 18th! Double digits, baby!

What is it like to interact with Aqua’s customers? What makes them unique?
We never know what situation we are going to encounter when we answer a phone call. Aqua’s customers come from a diverse range of locations, which allows us to work with a large variety of different personalities. Our customers are unique because they’re so diverse from one another.


Has working in customer service improved your people skills outside of Aqua America? 
Absolutely! I now have a ton more patience than I did prior to working in customer service. Speaking with customers every day has also made me a better listener; I pay more attention to detail and am able to notice things I would have otherwise missed in the past. Additionally, working in this industry has made me far more flexible — I am better able to solve problems and adapt to seemingly difficult situations. 

Has working with Aqua’s customers impacted your life outside the workplace? How so?
I always run into customers outside of work! I have been stopped while grocery shopping or out to dinner with my family; I have found myself answering customer service questions outside of the workplace more often than I could have ever imagined.


Whenever I do encounter a customer outside of Aqua, I always treat them just as I would in the office: with kindness and respect.

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Customer Service Week Spotlight: Kelli Hodges

Continuing our Customer Service Week series, today we’d like to introduce you to Customer Service Representative Kelli Hodges! Let’s get to know her.


How long have you been with Aqua?

I started in a temporary position with Aqua back in July of 2009, and was hired on full-time in November of that year!


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

Aqua customers are truly one of a kind. Dealing with an ever-present utility, I find that I am learning about the lives of people from all walks of life, an experience I find very rewarding.

What challenges have you overcome in order to provide quality customer service?

I have learned that it is sometimes necessary to pause, take a step back and give a customer the space to share their feelings, even if I have already determined the reason for their call. A lot of the time, customers need to express their emotions, and they use customer service representatives as an outlet to do just that.


We all need to be heard, and a major component to my role here at Aqua is ensuring that I’m listening to our customers’ needs and feelings, and driving home the fact that they know I’m here to support them.

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

The most rewarding thing about working in customer service is definitely helping customers find solutions and offering them options they didn’t even know they had. It may seem like such a minor thing for us, but we can make someone’s day and lift a huge weight off their shoulders with one short phone call. It’s an act I am very passionate about!

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

Absolutely. First and foremost, I have learned to develop a great deal of empathy and understanding in my relationships with others. Additionally, it is often the people we would least expect who may be having a hard time.


I believe that working in customer service has made me far more open-minded and sensitive of other peoples’ needs, thoughts and feelings.

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Aqua Cares About Bugs, and You Should Too

Why would a compliance guy at Aqua America care about bugs in the IllinoisKankakee River when most people try to avoid or kill bugs?


Kevin M. Culver of Aqua America

First off, I am not an entomologist (aka a bug expert) so why do I care about bugs? This is the first question I ask when conducting a source water presentation or manning our source water display booth at events.

Most of the responses I receive, depending on the age of the participant, are that:

·      Bugs are bad and need to be eliminated

·      Bugs are part of the food chain necessary to sustain life in the river

Both responses are somewhat correct but not exactly why I care. We do not want bugs in our drinking water but they are an important part of the food chain.

I care about the bugs because one can determine the health of a stream by the number and type of bugs living in the stream. Not only can the bugs be used to determine water quality, but fish and fresh water mussels can also be used as biological indicators of water quality.


Bugs And Your Water   

So what are macro-invertebrates (macros)? These include aquatic insect such as larvae, worms, leeches and snails that can be found under rocks, attached to plants and in the bottom sediments of rivers and streams.

Not all macros that are found indicate species of water quality. In fact, only 36 different groups of macros make up the specimens used to determine water quality.


The 36 Groups: What You Need to Know

As a citizen scientist through the River Watch program, I have been trained on techniques on how to properly collect and identify the water quality indicator of macro-invertebrates. 

I collect bugs at four assigned sites annually within the Kankakee watershed, located in the northeastern part of Illinois. The same sites are used each year to determine water quality at that instant and to trend this result against previous sampling events.

Each of the 36 indicator species is assigned a tolerance value (TV) to pollution between “0” being completely intolerant to pollution and “11” being highly tolerant to pollution.

The weighted average tolerance value of all the bugs collected at a site is the water quality indicator, officially known as the Macro-invertebrate Biological Index (MBI).

If a bug is intolerant to pollution, it means it hasn't acclimated to pollution, which mean the river is clean. If a bug is tolerant to pollution, it means the bug has indeed been exposed to pollution - so much so that its body has changed its reaction to pollution. 

So when Aqua tells everyone that the Kankakee River is one of the “cleanest” rivers in the Midwest, it's the bugs that prove it. The water quality in Rock Creek in the Kankakee State Park is one of the few sites in Illinois that are statistically getting cleaner, according to the bug results.

This year I also collected 849 bugs from my Kankakee River site that had the lowest ever average tolerance value (MBI) at 4.29.


Why Should You Care About the Bugs?  

Along with just being cool, they are an integral part of our source water protection plan. You can determine water quality by which bugs are present or absent and they are a great way to educate and demonstrate to young and old about the importance of source water protection.



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