Anna Jackson from SA Water joins us as a guest blogger this month to reflect back on WSAA's recent Customer Engagement Workshop.

In March, WSAA held a customer engagement workshop for water utilities to share the learnings from their recent strategic engagement programs. It covered a lot of ground, from managing the moving expectations of key stakeholders, how to get the reach and representativeness across your customer base, and gather data that can be turned into useful insights for a regulatory determination.

The Movember Foundation kicked the day off with a presentation about the movement behind the Foundation and the secrets of their success. Sam and Gav covered the importance of forming a connection through storytelling, localised strategies for communities and personalised strategies for corporates. Brand authenticity is critical to continued trust and support. Top quote: “be the best meeting they have all day”. Leave potential supporters excited and energised by the possibility of working with you.

Peter Lemon from Sydney Water introduced the next session by sharing with us his extensive knowledge of cheese. Just like a good cheeseboard, engagement needs to be varied and balanced to cater for a range of tastes.

Darren Cook from Queensland Urban Utilities talked about developing internal momentum for customer engagement, particularly where there isn’t a regulatory driver. They brought their customers into the Boardroom to do the talking and convinced their leadership that customer engagement is just the right thing to do.

IDEAS from the floor

  • In team meetings, have a ‘customer chair’ and a ‘customer share’
    • The chair is a designated customer chair and whoever sits in it that day has to take the customers’ view on everything.
    • The customer share is self-explanatory. Mix it around and provide positive and negative feedback.
  • Name your meeting rooms after customer personas.

Then it was my turn… we are still in the middle of our regulatory process for SA Water’s 2020-2024 plan. Customer engagement started back prior to building a new organisational strategy in 2017. My tips so far:

  • Have a go at smoothing out regulatory engagement so it’s not a rollercoaster ride in terms of resources and budgets.
  • If you have a customer-priority based organisational strategy it makes engagement more straightforward.
  • Mind the engagement gaps, watch out accessibility issues including language, disability or cultural differences, and have a plan to plug them.
  • And finally be agile during campaigns, if you are experiencing apathy in response, change it up.

Better yet, watch us do it for a bit and learn from our mistakes first….

Raechel O’Dwyer from Yarra Valley Water shared some great ideas such as recruiting customers against personas as well demographics, be aware of organisational bias and ask customers for problems, not solutions. Rachel also talked about the difference between measuring what customers expect, compared to what they value. My personal favourite takeaway was the customer research lamppost – are you using it for support or illumination?

Alex van Paassen from Wellington Water talked about trying to get an asset-focussed organisation thinking about people, not pipes. Great takeaways from Alex included don’t let jargon get in the way of your customer engagement, define what customers are, rather than what they are not, and the language you use in your organisation is key to changing thinking, and therefore work on behaviour and culture to become customer-centric.

IDEAS from the floor

  • What gets measured gets done.
  • Dashboards are gold
  • Get ready to ask ‘so what’ and ‘why’ across the business, on behalf of the customer

In a panel discussion about ongoing engagement Kellie King from Wannon Water talked about ‘fit for purpose’ engagement for the organisation. It doesn’t have to be huge and expensive but it does need to be right for your community. Andrew Garman from South East Water shared a finding that was a common theme over the day “Warn me, inform me”. Customers want to be told and kept updated about the things that will impact their lives. Andrew also spoke about the use of multiple methods of engagement and communication and how small samples can indicate early trends which you can then zoom in on.

Rachel Lopes from Melbourne Water walked us through a catchment management program co-designed with community, which can result in a shared sense of purpose and responsibility. Engagement with traditional owners cannot be rushed and takes time and care to be done well.

Great ideas in an atmosphere of shared learning from each other.

For those of you that couldn’t make the workshop, our members have shared 22 case studies from across Australia and NZ on their strategic engagement programs. These cover their methodology, insights, challenges and learnings.

WSAA Utility Members can find these on the WSAA community site on the Customer and Community Network group. For more information please contact Eve Rodrigues on

16 Apr 2019

Anna Jackson

Anna Jackson

General Manager Customers, Strategy and Innovation