Conference Programs Drill Into Effective Communication Strategies

Communicating effectively to customers was the focus of several panels this morning at ACWA’s 2011 Fall Conference & Exhibition in Anaheim.

In a Communications Committee program titled “Back to Basics: How to Talk Tap Water,” panelists provided effective strategies to respond to customer complaints, and reviewed responses that could cause more harm than good.

In response to a hypothetical report that water district workers were seen napping in a district vehicle, panelist Gary Arant, general manager for Valley Center Municipal Water District, urged attendees to validate their customers’ concerns and thank them for reporting. He added that following up with customers after looking into the complaint is key.

“Listening to the customer is really important,” he said. “They need to know their concerns are valued. When you get back to them with an answer, you build trust.”

In a Region 1 forum focusing on desalination, communication to customers was also underscored as a crucial factor in getting desal projects approved and built.

Panelist Bill Kocher, water director for the City of Santa Cruz, said working to change public perceptions about the ills of desalination was the focus of the city’s recent partnership with Soquel Creek Water District. A robust and transparent website, frequent email updates, informational materials, video library and social media program are all strategies for getting your message out, he said.

“If you want to reach people today, you’ve got to be on Facebook or Twitter,” he said. “We have had tremendous success with getting our messages to go viral.”

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