Customer and stakeholder relationships
Public health, engaged communities and stakeholders, thriving communities and economy
As a lifeline utility, we pride ourselves on serving Auckland 24/7, day and night. This was especially true during the COVID-19 lockdown when our frontline operational teams weathered a pandemic to carry out critical repairs and collect samples out in the field for tests so we could continue validating the quality of our water.
Our maintenance crews’ efforts attended to and resolved more than 58,000 pipe bursts and leaks during the year – an increase of five percent compared with 2018/19. This can largely be attributed to the extended hot and dry weather, which caused ground contraction and extra pressure on our water pipes. In addition, we also embarked on an extensive programme to identify concealed leaks to help reduce water loss. (Read the case study on this page to find out about our proactive leak detection programme.)
The COVID-19 lockdown impacted our ability to serve customers by phone as most of our home-based customerfacing teams could not receive phone calls. Customers therefore had to rely on email and web services to contact us, which affected the response and resolution rate. Despite these challenges, our team of customer champions managed to achieve a net promoter score (NPS) of +43 and our field crew continued to receive exceptional feedback from the community in the course of their work
The biggest impact of the lockdown on our customers was caused by our inability to read their water meters. This meant that for several months we had to bill customers according to estimates. Estimates are based on previous actual reads, and were not reflective of customers’ water consumption patterns during lockdown. This, unfortunately, led to higher-than-normal bills for some customers when we resumed meter readings after lockdown.
We understand that high bills can be alarming, even under normal circumstances, let alone when families have been financially impacted during a pandemic. That is why we increased our support to affected customers by offering flexible payment plans. We also promoted the services of the Water Utility Consumer Assistance Trust (WUCAT). Funded by Watercare, WUCAT supports customers in financial hardship to pay off their water bills; in 2019/20 we forgave $82,500 of debt and about $92,000 has been allocated for 2020/21.
Promoting the value of water to customers and communities was a major focus during 2019/20.
Since we started 2019/20 with an extended dry winter and low levels of water storage in our dams, we have been urging Aucklanders to conserve water. While Aucklanders are already the most water-efficient users in New Zealand, we needed to remind our customers and communities of the direct impact of weather and rainfall on Auckland’s water supply and demand.
We launched the Water is Precious campaign in February 2020 to increase awareness among our customers and communities about how small changes to their water-use behaviour can make a big difference to the city’s overall demand. The impact of taking shorter showers was a key message, supported by the distribution of thousands of free shower timers to households and accommodation providers across the city. Other outreach efforts included talks, demonstrations and free water stations at public events, water-wise competitions and free water-audits offered in partnership with EcoMatters Environment Trust, which is a community organisation that works to deliver environmental initiatives.
We continued to leverage our free education programme to promote the value of water to Auckland schools. (Read the case study below to learn about the recent programme milestones.)
When the drought led to our water storage levels dropping below 50% in May 2020, we recommended the implementation of water restrictions to Auckland Council. These restrictions banned the use of hoses and outdoor water use for non-potable activities like water blasting and car washing.
We were aware that these restrictions would severely impact building and car washing businesses. Therefore, working with Auckland Council, we provided free access to seven non-potable water sources across Auckland. At the end of June 2020, around six million litres of nonpotable water had been sourced from these sites.
We also continued to engage with commercial customers on the status and impact of the drought and the role they could play in addressing potential consequences for their businesses.
Aucklanders have, in turn, heeded our call for water conservation. Since water restrictions were introduced in mid-May, our customers have collectively saved over two billion litres of water. Our top commercial customers have achieved water savings of 14% on average and several companies have adopted innovative practices to minimise the need for potable water in their activities.
While managing the drought and navigating the challenges of a global pandemic, we continued to invest in new infrastructure. By proactively engaging with impacted communities long before the pipes and pumps are installed, we enabled mutually beneficial outcomes. Through the provision of clear and accurate information and commitment to mitigate/offset any adverse effects, our consenting and stakeholder teams have progressed planning work on the following projects: Grey Lynn Wastewater Tunnel, a new access chamber for the engineered overflow point in Hackett Street project, Drury South Wastewater Project and a region-wide Global Tree consent.
While 2019/20 has been a challenging year, we have gained a deeper understanding of our customers and stakeholders. In return, we hope they have developed an appreciation for drinking water being a precious resource. Our focus will continue to be our customers – delivering top-quality water and wastewater services, backed by excellent transactional experiences, and building awareness of water as a precious resource.
Watercare’s free education lessons for Auckland school kids (from kindergarten to intermediate level) reached a special milestone in August 2019, with the programme clocking its 100,000th pupil.
The occasion was marked with school children at a primary school on the North Shore and involved a lesson on water, water-themed activities and a celebratory cake.
Back in 2000, when this free education programme was established to promote the value of water to school children, it was called ‘Adopt A Stream’ as it involved freshwater sampling. As more lessons were added, it was renamed the Watercare Education Programme, which, apart from offering on-site lessons, also provides many other resources for teachers.
Many of the lessons have a field-trip element. Learning how to catch and identify freshwater macroinvertebrates or find out about the effects of pollution is all part of the experience. Water experiments cover magnification, refraction and surface tension. In wastewater lessons, students find out how waste solids and liquids are treated and where they end up.
One of the more popular lessons is based on a dramatic re-enactment, where the children get to mimic the journey of water as it travels from sky to sea.
The last couple of years have seen the education programme develop new avenues of engagement. In 2018, we published an illustrated book on water, Sam and Flo’s Amazing Watery Adventure, written by our then education coordinator Sally Smith. Free copies of this book were distributed to primary and intermediate schools across Auckland. We also developed a comprehensive water sampling kit that schools can use to test water quality of streams and interpret the results.
An illustrated book on wastewater, which is a companion piece to Sam and Flo’s Amazing Watery Adventure, will be launched in English and te reo Māori in September 2020.