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Customer Experience

Why It Matters

As a water provider, our service is deeply embedded in our customers’ daily lives and is a necessary component to healthy and sustainable living. As a result, we are customer-obsessed. We put our customers at the center of everything we do. Our history is built on reliably supplying clean water and providing an exceptional user experience. Our customers expect the highest possible level of service at all times, whether that be clear, concise and understandable bills; quickly handling customer inquiries and service requests; or expedited turnarounds during service outages or emergencies. We strive to provide every customer with an outstanding experience, making things easy for each customer and to provide safe, clean, affordable and reliable water and wastewater services to the communities we serve.

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Our Approach

To provide the best experience possible for our customers, we developed extensive customer relationship practices and systems. We provide multiple communication options so our customers can interact with us in the manner they prefer: via direct mail, online, phone or even in person. Last year, we expanded our customer experience initiative, making it easier for customers to do business with us. We enhanced our service quality through innovative technology and we continue to make needed infrastructure investments, while also implementing operational efficiency improvements to keep customer bills affordable.

In early 2019, we established a dedicated Chief Customer Officer to execute our commitment to providing outstanding customer experience. By listening to customers, we aim to achieve customer satisfaction and service quality ratings in the top quartile of service industries beyond the water and wastewater industry. We have a multiyear plan to enhance technology and innovation by leveraging secure artificial intelligence to better serve our customers, as well as by using online customer communities for immediate input and mapping of our most frequent customer interactions. That way, we can give customers the service they want, in the way they choose.

“Our goal is to have an Amazon-like experience for our customers” – Susan Story

Policies

To provide the exceptional experience our customers expect and deserve, our established policies put our customers first. Our Customer Service program includes a training manual with policies and procedures to set up accounts, handle and escalate calls, address billing options and more—everything that touches on the customer experience.

We provide training and thorough guidance to our customer service employees and third party representatives to help ensure exceptional and consistent customer experiences. We expect all customer service representatives to follow our guidelines, which offer step-by-step best practice guidance for supporting a wide range of customer requests and expectations for customer-centric metrics for success.

Responsibility

As a customer-obsessed company, our Board of Directors oversees and is actively involved in Customer Experience. Our Customer Experience and Customer Service organizations report to our Chief Customer Officer who reports on progress, new customer initiatives and building a customer-obsessed culture with the Board of Directors, both at the Safety, Environmental, Technology & Operations Committee as well as Board meetings. Outside of our leadership positions, the Customer Experience Council, formed in 2016, is a committee of employees that helps manage customer experience interactions and opportunities.

Dedicated Customer & Community Support

In response to customer and community feedback, we implemented a Major Account program focused on our largest customers who have specific needs that vary from our residential customers. Major Account Managers are located throughout our utility companies to provide personalized service to these key accounts and provide them with a single point of contact for all their water utility needs.

In addition to working with our Large Accounts, Major Account Managers and External Affairs representatives interact with local communities to build trusted relationships with the communities we serve.

In certain states, we established Customer Advocacy groups to work with customers at a local level, to enhance engagement and provide feedback to improve our processes for all customers in those areas. Customer Advocacy group feedback helps us coordinate programming and services in local communities based on their needs.

Our Field Service Representatives give customers a chance to have face-to-face interactions, something that occurs daily throughout the footprint. To aid in these interactions, we created a new application called Customer One-View, allowing Field Service Representatives to better assist customers and providing real-time insight into billing and usage data.

Customer Education

We engage with our customers and communities to enhance knowledge and understanding of important aspects of water and wastewater services, including water quality, the effects of aging infrastructure, climate variability affecting water supply and the pressing need to invest in local water resources and systems.

At the same time, we work to raise public awareness of the true value of water, which is critical to the success of the water industry and its capability to deliver these services sustainably over the long term. Additionally, we encourage and enable customers to educate themselves on water quality matters.

We post the federally required annual Water Quality Report and a Typical Water Quality Report, a plain language summary that includes Frequently Asked Questions addressing customer service inquiries and allowing customers to search using their zip code.

We maintain a regular dialogue with our customers via our Customer Service Center, satisfaction and service quality surveys, social media, our website, focus groups, open houses, volunteer events and plant tours.

Innovation & Accessibility

Our goal is to make customer interactions, such as paying a bill or move-in and move-out, as effortless as possible. We want to keep customers engaged and informed about what we are doing. We task our Technology & Innovation teams with improving Customer Experience. They work diligently to provide technology solutions to improve customer experience, such as self service tools based on our customer’s preference. Additionally, we use a third party in-call language line that offers translation for as many as 10 different languages to serve the diverse needs of our communities.

Customer Portal

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In 2018, we began a phased launch of a new customer web portal with increased features; the customer portal will be fully deployed during the latter half of 2019. Our customerweb portal offers customers a personalized way to manage interactions. Through the web portal, customers can:

  • Track their water use
  • Set up a new account
  • View and pay their bills
  • Enroll in Paperless Billing and Auto Pay
  • Check account balances
  • Update contact information
  • Sign up for service alerts

We aim to create a personalized experience, one in which customers can work with us in the way they prefer, catering the way we do business to each and every customer’s preference. As of July 2019, we have 636,000 customers (approximately 20% of customers) enrolled in paperless billing. This feature provides customers all the same information as customers as provided on a hard copy bill.

We want to be the best, and if our customers had a choice as to who serves them, we want them to choose us.

Customer Bill Simplification

Beginning in 2015, we convened a Customer Experience committee and began analyzing the different segments of the business and how they influence customer experiences. In response to customer requests, we spent 2017 and 2018 pursuing bill simplification and resonance. Throughout the redesign process, we used a virtual focus group with more than 2,000 customers who volunteered to participate in surveys and regular engagement sessions with the company. We engaged vendors that handle bills for other companies to glean best in class practices for bill simplification while also providing the information our customers want and need on topics like water use and conservation. Based on these interactions and customer feedback, we presented three model bill options to a customer focus group to determine which model they preferred. With their feedback, in 2018, we rolled out new, simplified customer bills for all the states in which we operate and received positive feedback on the clarity of the improvement.

Customer Bill
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System

Our Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System gives customers another way to work with us. This system allows us to provide a greater level of service, allowing us to meet customer needs without waiting to connect with one of our customer service representatives. With the IVR System, customers can check their balance, pay their bills, turn off service and coordinate move out/in all within two minutes or less. As a result of implementing the new IVR system, we are seeing a greater than 45% self-service rate, which is higher than industry standards.

Customer One View

In 2017 and 2018, we worked on and deployed our Customer One View application. This application, created by our front-line employees, provides our Field and Customer Service Representatives clear insight into a customer’s billing and usage data and increases their ability to provide onsite or one call resolution.

Pulse Surveys

Receiving feedback from our customers is vital to improving our customer initiatives and ensuring the experience is the best possible. Through our Pulse Surveys, we can obtain real-time feedback from customers when they interact with our teams in the field, via our customer service center, online or through the IVR system. These surveys help us improve our understanding of how transactions occur, improve our overall service and set better customer expectations. We share survey responses at the field service level followed by managers reaching out to customers when needed and to share feedback with employees, reinforce positive interactions and celebrate successes.

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Our Performance

Replacement

Our goal at all times is high quality and reliable service for our customers.

In 2017, we began a three-year plan to deliver an “Amazon-like” experience to our customers. This means:

  • Leveraging secure artificial intelligence to predict customers’ needs before they ask;
  • Using online customer communities to get immediate input before rolling out programs;
  • Mapping our most frequent customer interactions and reworking our internal processes to give customers the services they want, the way they want them; and
  • Bringing real water solutions to communities across the United States.

Our annual customer-based incentive goal is to achieve the first quartile of customer satisfaction in our annual benchmarking survey. We have 15% of our incentive compensation tied to customer experience performance.

Key Metrics

To ensure we are providing a strong customer experience, we set and evaluate customer satisfaction goals each year and disclose our performance in our Annual Report. For example, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, we aspired to achieve customer satisfaction in the second quartile, or better, of a quarterly survey conducted by a third-party firm of randomly selected regulated water and wastewater customers. Each year, we achieved a customer satisfaction rating in the first quartile.

Our current target includes achieving “first quartile” in overall satisfaction based on a quarterly benchmark study where we compare American Water’s overall satisfaction to our peer water companies. The first quartile is equal to or greater than 75% of the other peer water companies.

In 2018, we added 14,000 new customers in the regulated business through closed acquisitions and an additional 11,000 through organic growth. As of June 30, 2019, we have added approximately 28,400 water and wastewater customers through our regulated businesses and entered into agreements to add approximately 38,700 additional customers. As we grow, we continue to uphold our strong commitment to our customers.