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The real world pros and pitfalls of robo-calling

With customer engagement becoming one of the most influential megatrends in the water sector, robo-calling – more commonly known as automated telephone surveys – is starting to be considered as a legitimate research technique.

Presenting at Ozwater’18 on the pros and cons of utilising robo-calling for customer data collection, Insync Executive Director James Garriock said advances in technology make robo-calling a viable alternative to more traditional methods.

“Technology is enabling us to put more tools in the box. Twenty years ago there was no such thing as an online survey. Technology is branching out in a number of ways now to help us to gather information,” Garriock said.

“One of the most relevant tools for the water industry in Australia is ‘robo-calling’; it’s a mechanism by which boards can be brought closer to the pulse of customers.”

Garriock said the benefits of utilising robo-calling are many, but that it is not universally useful nor insightful.

“Robo-calling will have a long-term role, but only for a very limited number of applications. It’s more for things like reputation tracking. You could have a reputation report ready a week before every board meeting, offering up-to-date information on the public’s perception,” he said.

“You get a far more representative sample of the population, which is really important. It’s difficult for water utilities to get a hold of younger people, as they don’t tend to have landlines. But robo-calling gets to younger people on mobile, as well as being faster and cheaper than almost any other research method.”

The speed and versatility of the method also has the potential to aid utilities in immediate customer-relations strategies following emergency responses or community disturbances, Garriock said.

“You can very easily get feedback on specific incidents. If you’ve got front page news about a burst main or any other reputational issue, you can check customers’ responses to that incident very quickly,” he said.

Although it’s quick and cheap, Garriock said it’s not a tool you’d apply to more in-depth customer data collection, due to the restriction on the number of questions.

“The downside is that its less insightful, because there is a limit to the number of questions you can ask. Nor does it provide qualitative data. You get half a dozen numerical responses and that’s about it,” he said.

With customer engagement a standout megatrend in the Australian water sector, Garriock said it’s important for utilities to be aware of how different technologies can be utilised to strengthen their customer engagement strategies.

“The age of water and wastewater engineering being transformative and impressive is over, we can see that. We know that quality of water supply to the home doesn't explain why a person's perceptions of value for money change. Instead, the age of the customer is upon us,” Garriock said.

“Insync is agnostic when it comes to how we get data from customers, every different method has its pros and cons. But collecting data from customers helps the water sector understand the community better, helps them move from being ‘authorities’ to customer service organisations, and inspires change.

“We decided to present this paper along with Hunter Water because robo-calling is not as straightforward as it first appears. We will explain where the providers get the phone numbers from, how the technology works, and some of the situations where robo-calling just doesn’t work.”

Register for Ozwater’18 to hear more from James Garriock on the perks and pitfalls of utilising the robo-calling in the water sector.