Marketing Lessons from the Water Company

To begin with, I love my well. Before I moved here, I thought all well water was that nasty orange iron-laden stuff that tastes awful and makes your soap curdle in the shower.

But not this well water. No, this water is clear, clean, tasty, and pleasantly soft.

And when you consider the fact that the water we were being offered smells like a swimming pool and is cited multiple times every year for health and safety violations -- well, let’s just say I wasn’t too keen on the whole prospect.

We weren’t even being offered a way to toggle between the city water and our wells, so if we decided to hook up to the new water line, we’d have to give up our wells forever.

I then inquired as to whether we could forego the actual hook-up but still have the line brought up to the house -- as a selling point for future buyers.

And I was told yes . . . for a monthly fee that spanned, I believe, three years.

A three-year fee just for the pleasure of having a water line I wasn’t even going to use?

You’ve got to be kidding.

In the end, instead of being forced to give up my beautiful well for an inferior product, I decided to keep my current water and simply grant the water company an easement for fire department purposes.

But even this didn’t go as planned...

Although I was told only one small corner of my land would be crossed, when the time finally came months later for the work to actually begin, I discovered that no water line was being laid down the first mile of my road.

Instead, they’d started at some kind of midway point, crossing the road to enter my property, where they then proceeded to plow under not one small corner, but hundreds of feet of pasture in a swath at least 15 feet wide.

Ancient boulders I’d long admired were scarred or simply uprooted, the tire tracks of heavy equipment stretched far out into the field, and a portion of my fencing had been cut down and then put back up in the most haphazard, sloppy fashion imaginable.

After recovering from the initial shock, fury began to set in. The way I saw it, I’d been completely taken advantage of and my property mangled.

Needless to say, I hot footed it back to the house and hit the phone.

But not only did I find no one available at the office when I called, days passed and not one single employee saw fit to respond to the urgent message I’d left.

After some inspired detective work, I did manage to locate an emergency number -- again hoping to reach a real human -- but I again found nothing but a cold, hard machine on the other end of the line.

So left with no more options but to leave yet another voice mail, I then sat back and waited -- hoping I'd finally get someone’s attention.

Thank goodness for the very apologetic representative of my local water company who eventually returned my call -- even making it a point to come out to my house to speak to me in person about my concerns.

From him I learned that I was supposed to have been contacted by an engineer before the project ever took place (I wasn’t), and that the damage to my property would be corrected.

And now here we are, a month or so later.

The fence has undergone two “repairs” -- the first another completely botched effort and the second . . . well, suffice it to say we're still not there yet.

Of course, the grass will have to take care of itself, because while the water company was responsible for its destruction, they didn't feel responsible for its restoration.

And it will probably take a few more million years before the rock formations lose their scars.

But at least things are starting to get back to something approximating normal.

So what -- I’m sure you’re fairly demanding at this point (that is, if you’ve made it this far) -- marketing lessons does my little saga hold?

Believe it or not, quite a few.

1. Keep track of and educate your customers.

By not giving me the chance to talk to a real engineer before digging began, I was misinformed about what to expect.

In other words, had I spoken to an engineer, I would have known that a little bit more than just a small corner of my land would be affected.

By allowing me to fall through the cracks this way, the water company had one irate land owner on their hands and had to go into damage control mode.

And damage control is not where you want to be.

If you want to increase sales or, better yet, get repeat sales, you simply must track where each customer is in every stage of the sales cycle -- and provide them with the information they need at each stage.

When you fail to keep your customers informed -- or a customer falls through the cracks of your sales process -- your reputation suffers and you lose sales.

2. Find out what the customer wants and then give it to ‘em.

By offering no way to toggle between city and well water, my local water department lost a potential source of revenue -- me.

I was told that such a service had been offered in the past -- a good indication there was indeed a market for it; however, the technology didn’t work well.

But instead of perfecting the technology, they just stopped offering the service.

What? I can think of several reasons off the top of my head why this would be a great tool to offer, so isn’t that logic a little back-assward?

Marketers who take the time to find out what their customers want and need, and then test and perfect their products, will have an edge over the competition -- an edge that leads to more sales and more loyal customers.

3. Plan for the future.

Although no one can anticipate every potential scenario, the fact that my local water company neglected to lay any line down the first mile of my road shows a complete lack of foresight.

Not that I’m hoping for yet more growth in the neighborhood, mind you. But chances are it will come one day. And when it does, there will be no water line ready and waiting.

A marketing strategy that takes into account both short- and long-term goals not only helps you stay focused, it also puts you in a much better position to take advantage of opportunities otherwise lost to the competition -- and keep both old and new customers happy.

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