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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Let’s Get Social Raffle Winners

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the announcement of the Lets Get Social raffle! We’d like to thank all of our customers for participating in the raffle, reading your bill inserts and helping to build our Facebook community and Twitter following during our first sweepstakes campaign. And now … the winners of three brand spankin’ new iPad Airs:

Congratulations to our winners:

Vikki R. from Bourbonnais, IL 

Noreen L. from Shamokin, PA

Lauren S. from Malvern, PA 

Even if you didn’t win, you’ve still technically won because now that you like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, you have even more options to get your customer service questions answered and learn about the most essential elements on the planet, water. So while you’re here, feel free to poke around and read a few blog posts to see what our extraordinary employees are up to, how we’re serving community or how we’re evolving to better serve our customers.

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Get WaterSmart!

We’re very excited to show off Aqua WaterSmart, an interactive program to help consumers conserve water in their homes and learn about the water treatment process. The new program is available on the home page of the Aqua America website.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the U.S. population has doubled over the last 30 years and the demand for drinking water has tripled during this time,” said Aqua Chairman and CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis. “Further, more than half of our country is facing water shortages. At Aqua, we recognize the importance of proactive conservation to protect this important resource and remain committed to bringing clean, safe drinking water to our customers for the cost of about a penny a gallon.” 

The interactive program is an illustration of a home, with clickable elements in each room that provide water conservation tips for everyday activities, such as cleaning, gardening and personal care. The program is available as a mobile web app on tablets and smartphones, and accessible on most web browsers for desktops and laptops.  

The program also focuses on education about how water travels from a source to the tap, with downloadable infographics that explain the processes to treat surface water, groundwater, and wastewater. “Most people turn on their tap water every day without realizing how source water is treated and then delivered to their home,” said Karl Kyriss, executive vice president, who oversees Aqua’s information technology department. “We created this resource to help educate consumers about the entire process, which further supports our focus on conservation. By conserving water use in day-to-day activities, we save water and energy, reducing our total environmental impact.

By working together to save water in small ways throughout our home and daily routines, we can make a big impact and help save water,” added DeBenedictis.

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Help Us Help You

When you turn on the faucet, you expect water to flow. But both extremely cold and extremely hot weather can cause water mains to break — and cause customers to lose their water service for a few hours or longer while we make repairs. Aqua provides an essential service that our customers count on every day, and we understand that you want to know as soon as possible if your water service is disrupted in some way. Now, we can get important information to you however you prefer — by email, text or phone.

  

WaterSmart Alerts is our automated notification system to inform customers about local water service issues faster and more efficiently. WaterSmart Alerts automatically notifies customers by phone, email, or text message about water main breaks, precautionary boil advisories, temporary disruptions and other issues that affect your water service.

But WaterSmart Alerts only work if we have your updated contact information. That means we need you to help us help you!

Just log on to AquaAmerica.com and click on “WaterSmart Alerts” to update your contact information, or customers without Internet access can call 877.987.2782 to tell us how you’d like to be notified about local water service issues in the future. You can choose your preferred method of contact — email, phone call or text message.

Don’t be surprised if we call or email you with other news about Aqua that we think you’ll want to know. For example, we might call to tell you about a customer town hall where you can learn about your community’s water system and meet the employees who operate it. Or we might call to let you know in advance if we’re flushing the pipes in your area. It’s important to us to keep in touch with our customers. After all, you had us at hello.

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Welcome to the Aqua blog!

Welcome to the Aqua blog!

Since 1886, Aqua has provided families with quality water service. In 2013, about 3 million people in 10 states use Aqua America as their water and wastewater utility. Over the past century, we’ve seen our fair share of change as a company and a community, including the way we communicate. We know that you’ve changed the way you communicate too. In the past, we received letters and phone calls from our customers, but now you want to talk to us online and through social media.  

We created our social media sites to better inform, educate, assist and engage with you, our customer. Aqua is equally dedicated to our customers, employees, shareholders and communities, as each represents our success and our potential growth. Whether you have an issue, comment or just want to chat, Aqua’s social accounts are here to help. We’ll listen to what you have to say. 

The blog you’re currently reading will cover a wide range of recyclable/green topics, customer questions and highlights about our employees and volunteers. We feel this is a great opportunity for you to get an inside look at who we are and what we stand for as a company.

Our Facebook will keep you up-to-date on what’s happening in the water industry through third-party news articles, fun and informative visuals. It will also be a place where we can communicate directly with our customers. We’ll share photos of new projects around the country and highlight employee culture and customer service stories.

The Aqua America Twitter page will be your main source to interact with us so we can provide support and help point you in the right direction. If an emergency arises, our Twitter account will also serve to help keep you updated in real time. 

Please pop over to say hi, ask questions and see everything that they have to offer. 

See you on the Internet!

- The Aqua Team

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