By Simon Wallis
In June 2006, the State of Queensland, Australia was suffering from the worst drought in living memory. By April 2007, the situation was critical. To conserve water and prepare for the future, a 50-year plan was created to encourage households to capture water more efficiently, reduce waste and promote more efficient usage. The Queensland State Government turned to a London-based company to create a marketing database platform to contact customers, encourage conservation, and track and follow up on usage. This effort was supported by the introduction of a statutory obligation to limit households’ water usage.
Two customer segments were quickly targeted. ‘Heavy’ water users were identified through a billing analysis, which established that 16 percent of households accounted for 35 percent of consumer water consumption. The need to target these heavy water users with a tailored program to reduce daily consumption was clear and thus, the first direct-purpose software program was created. The project began with a mailed survey to 90,000 households, identified as heavy users. Questionnaires could be completed online, by phone or by mail. Approximately 86,000 responses were received (as required by statute; non-completers received a number of increasingly firm letters reminding them of their legal obligations) and placed in a centralized database. Business rules, based on the extent to which households had the latest water-saving technologies in place in their homes, were applied to divide these responses into meaningful segments. Within these segments, each individual received a personalized water-usage report with recommended actions designed to achieve the required reduction in water consumption. These reports were sent by mail and gave each household password-protected access to a website to update water-usage records, change parameters to understand how different behavior could reduce or increase water usage, and measure progress over time in meeting their water-usage reduction targets. A series of follow-up communications were sent by mail or email to households (depending on opt-in preference) either to remind consumers to complete the survey or visit the website and measure their progress. The content of these communications changed according to the level of technology already installed in the household, and the extent to which households were actually reducing water consumption over time.
For all other households (with less usage), a program was established in which household members were encouraged to reduce their water usage by having a water-usage audit conducted at their home. The audit process included checking water appliances, repairing leaks and more. The household member then signed up for a series of water-reducing commitments. They could follow their activities on a website, with a range of tools designed to help measure progress over time by inputting billing information. The website also provided information about rebates and other incentives offered by local councils or the Queensland State Government to help householders reduce water consumption. The auditing service installed water efficient devices (such as flow restrictors and water efficient showerheads) in 228,000 homes in southeast Queensland.
The energy audit, which is conducted by a licensed electrician, includes the following:
- The audit.
- An installed wireless energy monitor.
- Up to 15 free energy-efficient light globes, suppliedand installed
- A free energy efficient showerhead, supplied and installed.
- A customized Energy and Water Efficiency Plan.
- Access to My ClimateSmart Home, a customized on-line portal for energy and water saving advice.
Poster and TV campaigns are running to promote the program and encourage households to book an energy audit of their home. A tablet PC data capture and customer engagement application was developed to allow a team of 400 electricians to capture detailed information, which results in customers receiving a printed water and energy reduction plan.
The database challenge
The need to capture diverse data was significant. Legally, every communication had to be recorded and stored, and all parties had to be kept accurately up to date with each individual’s progress throughout the process. Consumer-facing call centers, officials from the state government and local government stakeholders in the program (as well as the field team of 200 plumbers who conducted audits across Queensland) were called upon to capture data and upload it simply and quickly into a central database.
The database acted as an electronic library that provided digital storage of all completed paper questionnaires and letters against each household record. Applications included a call-center management program that gave telemarketing staff a complete view of the history of all interactions a household had previously, within the context of the program; a complaints and feedback module that gave households (or any member of the public) an on-line forum for registering comments, positive or negative; escalation procedures (depending on the severity of the comment), and an on-line report dashboard for stakeholders and other third-party or affinity-program partners. An on-going process of individualized communications, based on initial usage and changing habits, was developed that spoke to the unique patterns of each household. (These expressed the degree to which households had respected the commitments they made, or suggested new or other ways of helping households meet water reduction targets.) Ninety-two percent of the target group that participated in the initial program showed a significant reduction in water consumption.
Following the success of the home-auditing service, that program was replaced by a Queensland Government initiative that began in January 2009. It is one of the world’s largest programs aimed at residential energy efficiency and behavioral change, and is on track to deliver services to 260,000 households before the end of 2010. Customers are sent a printed energy- and water-savings plan tailored to the household and can then access a personalized website containing targeted information and savings tips. It also offers tools to monitor water and energy usage, and a personalized recommendation of action and behavior required to reduce water and energy consumption. Under the program directives, energy- and water-efficient devices are installed, including a wireless energy monitor that displays electricity usage information to customers in real time, facilitating more efficient household energy consumption. Collectively, these homes will save up to $70 million (AUS) on electricity and water bills each year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 3.8 million tons. Based on current installation rates, the collective estimated savings of the program are 6,600 gWh hours of electricity and 146 gigaliters (one GL = 264 million gallons; 38.5 billion gallons) of water annually. Local Government Infrastructure Services (LGIS), manager of this $72-million initiative on behalf of the Queensland Government, partnered with the London software firm to provide information systems integral to the success of the program. The company also provided data management services and targeted marketing solutions for the program.
Reducing our carbon footprint is a goal upon which all can agree. When water and other utility companies—and their customers—can benefit from the strategies and techniques offered by direct marketers, it’s a win-win scenario for all.
About the author
Simon Wallis is Head of Data at Marketing Software Solutions, a London, England software house. He has been responsible for building more than 60 marketing CRM platforms for organizations around the world. Wallis’ specialty is the knitting together of customer data from disparate sources to provide insight on customer behavior, using the latter build intelligent automated communication programs, designed to engage customers and maintain dialogue with them. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the company
Based in London, Marketing Software Solutions (MSS) is a software company that helps clients improve customer dialogue and resultant sales with easy-to-use, cost-effective technology. In addition to its software expertise, MSS provides marketing consulting and data planning to assist clients in developing a successful and profitable two-way dialogue between customers and brands across multiple channels, including the Internet, email, SMS, direct mail and voice.
About the software
The 1-2-1 water-saving program aimed at heavy water users and the Home WaterWise Service run by Queensland State Government were replaced by the ClimateSmart Home Service. “A key element of the program is customer engagement, and the ClimateSmart Home Service has employed the use of state-of-the-art tablet PC technology to conduct the in-home assessment component,” said LGIS Executive Director, Major Projects, Anthony Coates. “This service component not only collects data on technology installed in the household, as well as consumption behavior, but provides customized information on-the-fly to customers, including a detailed breakdown of their household energy usage, power and water-saving tips and a household energy-consumption target.”