Five years ago, my co-founder Rob Steiner and I met to discuss an opportunity we both thought was vital and urgent – how to design a water conservation solution that would reach each customer without a costly visit to each home. The idea made sense to us, but would it make sense to water utility managers who are in the business of selling water?
Today, as we send out our one millionth Home Water Report, I can confidently state that the answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!” In five short years, WaterSmart Software has grown from two water advocates with an idea to a thriving company with 25 employees, 30 utility partners in four states, and a cumulative impact of over 750 million gallons of water saved!
While we always intended to help people better understand their water use to improve efficiency and save money, we began to learn some other, unexpected things as we worked more closely with our water utility partners. When utilities help educate their customers about water, and provide information and suggestions on ways to save, the nature of the customer relationship changes in a fundamental way.
The residential customer moves from simply being a ‘rate payer’ who receives a bill, to being a true partner with the utility. As households become more informed and efficient with their water use, they begin to look at their utility as a trusted advisor, and their levels of satisfaction go up considerably. In fact, in an independent report on a program we ran with the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the number of customers who rated their utility as ‘excellent’ increased by 200%!
And our utility partners began to realize some other, less obvious benefits. Not only were water managers and directors seeing happier customers, but they were also seeing reduced costs. Water is very expensive to treat and pump, so when households use less, the utility buys less water and pays less for treatment chemicals and pumping energy. This leads to operating savings for the utility, and can also reduce investments in future infrastructure due to lower levels of demand.
And at the center of this virtuous relationship is information. While we know that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, the water industry is one of the few major sectors of our economy that is just now beginning to bring the technology of data analytics into the planning and business management process. The capabilities in our platform are constantly expanding, and the levels of our insights are deepening as our client base grows. This leads to better-informed utility leaders and customers, more savings, and better water resilience and security in the long-term.
I want to personally thank each of our utility partners, without whom we wouldn’t exist and whom we work to serve every day. And a special thanks to our far-sighted investors who continue to believe in us and understand the special challenges we face in a risk averse industry needing innovative solutions. The next million reports will certainly come much more quickly than the first million, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.