As part of WSAA's new young utility member development opportunities, Seqwater's Katie Jones joined us in Canberra for the WSAA Chairs and MDs’ Symposium and Members Meeting. Reflecting on the two days Katie talks about her highlights from the events in our latest blog.
Last week I was given the opportunity to attend WSAA’s Chairs and MDs’ Symposium, along with the Members Meeting, as part of WSAA’s young utility member development opportunities. Being my first WSAA event, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the two days. What struck me most was that there’s a real sense of collaboration, commitment to promoting leading ideas and industry leadership and action on critical issues in the industry. With so much discussed over the two days, it’s almost impossible to condense my notes down to a blog, so I thought I’d share with you some of my highlights from across the events.
Our customers expect an Amazon-level service
We heard from the Colin Skellet, CEO of Wessex Water, on the journey that the utility has been on since privatisation. Customer satisfaction is a key focus for the business and they’ve begun measuring themselves using Net Promoter Score not only against other utilities but against other leading service providers such as Amazon. This is because customers today expect the same service from a utility as they do for other businesses. If we consider our performance compared only against utilities - we only see one part of the picture. Wessex Water found that they perform very highly in the water industry, but are only midway when compared to other service providers like Amazon. This has inspired them to look more broadly at ways to improve their services and customer experience. Social media is an important part of this, with their customers now able to receive 24/7 updates on services. This was achieved by getting network operations staff to monitor social media outside of normal working hours.
Advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
My highlight from the two days would have to be attending the release of the WSAA paper ‘Global Goals for Local Communities’, on advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, learning more about what it means for the industry and its future. As a millennial (81% of us believe business has a key role to play in achieving the SDGs) I’m passionate about the SDGs and was internally fist-pumping as I watched industry leaders take a stand for something so important. A ‘purchase order for the future’, the goals represent a commitment to ensuring available and sustainable management of water for everyone. The goals also describe the values that many in our own communities seek, and are already key to attracting and keeping talented young people in the industry.
The paper (that can be found here) outlines the reasons why we should support the goals and the steps that utilities can take to embed them into their businesses. Already many WSAA members have adopted the SDGs into their business - and hopefully, many more will follow in their footsteps. If you’ve not heard about the SDGs yet, I’d encourage you to read the paper and socialise it within your networks.
We’re now (finally) talking about mental health in the workplace
When I first noticed that mental health was on the agenda, I was pretty surprised. It wasn’t a topic that I had expected to hear about at a water industry meeting. After my shock subsided, I was encouraged that the industry has is beginning to talk about such an important issue. For those of you who haven’t heard the statistics on the prevalence of mental illness and suicide in our society - they’re not good. In fact, they’re pretty dreadful. I won’t get on my soap box too much, but it’s so bad that the suicide rate is 2.5 times the road toll. And it’s not just the individual toll that’s significant; mental illness costs businesses a lot of money in lost time and productivity.
The good news is that it’s no longer an issue that’s being swept under the rug and ignored. We heard from Patrice O’Brien, Head of Workplace Engagement at Beyond Blue, who outlined the resources that are available through their Heads Up program, and why we should care about and prioritise the creation of a mentally healthy workplace. The keys to improvement include educating ourselves to increase understanding, talking about the issues to reduce stigma, attending events in the workplace, and ensuring mental health is on the agenda at all levels in the business.
Is the term ‘utility’ outdated?
Colin Skellett, CEO from Wessex Water shared with the group the fact that he doesn’t like using the term ‘utility’ when talking about the water industry. At first it seemed like a rather outlandish concept, as the term is used so much to describe what we do in the water industry. But his reasoning was that the term is more focused on how and what we do (in the form of assets and operations) rather than why we do it (which is providing a service to our communities). This can send a message that we’re more focused on spending money on our assets than providing great services to our customers. Colin suggested using the term ‘service provider’ instead, as it better illustrates what’s at the heart of everything we do - providing water and wastewater services to our communities.