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Podcast – How South East Water’s approach to research is helping customers make positive changes

When South East Water launched their customer water usage app back in 2016 they learnt a lot of hard lessons.

Alana Jones, Customer R&D Project Manager at South East Water, says the app was designed to help customers save water by monitoring water usage of toilets, showers and washing machines.

Many of the features and ideas were based on customer feedback from question-and-answer research. What was expected to be a game-changer for the industry ended with disappointing results.

“We got zero per cent behaviour change,” Alana says. “It's so confusing, and it was so disappointing. We went back to the drawing board and regroup for the next couple of initiatives.”

Fast forward to today, South East Water’s latest customer apps and features have started to shift customer behaviour – all thanks to a few changes in the way they approach data and research.

Alana recently sat down with our host Jo Taranto to talk about how changing customer behaviour is less about asking questions and more about listening.

Digging deeper into customer feedback

Alana says for the past 10 years she has been working on bringing new tools, apps and features to South East Water customers to save on their water bills.

These include a compilation of five different products aimed at customers that let them know about peak water usage times or potential leaks and manage their appliance’s water use.

During the customer research phase, Alana soon learned people are sensitive about revealing how much water they really use.

“Question and answer research has a good role to play, but it's really hard to get beneath the surface,” Alana says. “Particularly in an area like water conservation where sometimes habits are quite ingrained.”

“For example, some people love to leave the tap on the entire time that they're cooking dinner so they can come back and forth to wash dishes, wash food.

“It's trying to interrupt these long-standing habits with some recommendations for better behaviour.”

How better data makes better products

Alana says observing and understanding customer behaviour, and intervening at the right times, produced much better results than just asking questions.

When it came time to deliver their Water Saver app, a tool for customers that encourages them to track water conservation targets in their homes, the results were a stark contrast to their first app in 2016.

“By the end of the trial we saw a shift in behaviour change of around 1.6 per cent,” Alana says. “Saving 1.6 per cent in a water context is actually huge. All of it counts.”

Alana says while observational research has been key to the project, other factors such as changing customer expectations have helped in changing their approach.

“As a water utility, we're used to delivering a bulk water product, taking it away, and treating it. It's quite a technical and highly specialised skill.

“But now, we all have to become data experts, technology experts, and really customer experts.”

Nudge, nudge, and keep nudging

For Alana, the secret to changing customer behaviour and help them live more sustainable and healthier lives came down to one thing.

“Nudge, nudge, keep nudging,” she says. “The things that I've learned most across doing these initiatives is that the data has to be quite personalised and relevant.

“It's no good sitting there with rows and rows of data if you can't actually make it meaningful for the customer.”


 This podcast is proudly sponsored by Schneider Electric

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