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How tech is helping water companies improve lockdown customer service

Bobby Bahia, commercial director for transport & infrastructure at Totalmobile, discusses how technology innovations and deployments in the last year mean that Lockdown 3.0 is going to look very different (and improved) for customers and staff at utilities firms.

Though many had hoped we’d put the lockdowns of 2020 behind us, the new year has started with yet another – Lockdown 3.0. On the plus side, having been through this experience twice already in the UK, many utilities companies are starting to get used to the processes that are required to continue to deliver quality customer service with a reduced workforce during these periods.

However, this is the first national lockdown during winter months, and for water companies in particular, cold weather brings a new set of challenges. But with lessons that have been learned from the previous 12 months, businesses are in a better place as they have a much greater understanding now of how to ensure their employees can keep working, despite the heavy restrictions in place.

Water and winter don’t mix

Not all of the UK gets snow in January and February, but it’s safe to say that across the country we can all experience freezing cold temperatures. For water companies, this weather is more than a minor inconvenience as the number of pipes that burst and need emergency repairs rises sharply during cold weather.

Regardless of whether the pipe in question supplies clean water or removes wastewater, when there is potentially gallons of it pouring out of the ground it’s not only an expensive waste, but in freezing temperatures this can also create an ice hazard to pedestrians and vehicles.

During lockdown, completing maintenance on burst pipes – or any other maintenance that is required – is trickier than usual, as companies will be trying to limit the number of workers they send to a single site. But as mentioned previously, lessons have been learned, and new technologies have been implemented by many companies to ensure that they can cope with the challenging situation.

Preparation is everything

During winter there will always be regular maintenance to complete in addition to emergencies. And if there is a backlog of jobs that didn’t get ticked off in 2020, prioritising scheduling will ensure that the new lockdown doesn’t push them further behind.

Scheduling software is being adopted by utilities companies to help speed up this process. These applications can identify the backlog in one geographical area and ensure that local teams can focus on these jobs first and move between them quicker. This is more productive than, for example, completing the tasks in due date order, which could see teams retracing their steps over the course of a week traveling to different sites.

Scheduling applications also help ensure that the right resources are sent to the right jobs, reducing the number of repeat visits that are needed. And, when it comes to compliance, having detailed schedules in place is enabling companies to meet strict SLAs when carrying out maintenance – preparation ensures they have everything they legally require. Similarly, newly automated audits are speeding up this process, meaning workers can complete jobs and move onto the next site quicker.

While scheduling can always be done manually, companies that have software which is designed to map out their jobs is a time saver, reduces the margin for error and eases the pressure on teams. Crucially, this also means that customers aren’t left waiting for long periods of time for essential maintenance to be carried out.

Be in two places at once

Video-based remote assistance is another innovative technology that is helping companies across the utilities industry to improve customer experience during lockdown. In the ‘new normal’ where limiting face-to-face contact is high on the priority list, any solution that can reduce the amount of time people spend in multiple locations, and the number of people that need to be there at all, is beneficial. Video-based remote assistance is enabling water maintenance workers to complete their jobs with less risk to themselves and others – be it other workers, such as Highway Maintenance, or members of the local community.

A smaller team can attend a maintenance job, and should they require advice from a more experienced team member, they can use the video livestream to show a supervisor the situation they’re dealing with and complete the job themselves under guidance. This reduces the number of workers that need to attend a site at one time, thereby helping the business to deploy resources more widely than before, and maximising labour utilisation when likely dealing with a reduced workforce. The supervisors working remotely can assist multiple maintenance workers in one day without travelling between locations, which in lockdown is discouraged wherever possible.

During these winter months, and even into early spring, water companies will be under pressure to ensure that all customers receive their water supply as normal, despite the cold conditions. But though lockdown presents new challenges for these companies to deal with, experience from the first two lockdowns, and rapidly developing technology innovations, are helping them to continue to provide a high quality service. And not only are these solutions increasing the capabilities of these companies now, but they will also help to boost efficiency and productivity once life returns to a semblance of normal.

Topic: Innovation , Leaks & bursts , Pipes & Pipelines , Skills & workforce
Tags: water companies , wastewater , vehicles , customer service , weather , utilities , Pipes , workforce

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