From the President: Upgrading WEF’s Customer Service

August 26, 2014

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Sandra K. Ralston, WEF President 2013–2014

Sandra K. Ralston, WEF President 2013–2014

In April, Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Executive Director Eileen O’Neill and I visited New Orleans for a meeting with Cedric Grant, the new director of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board.

In the taxi line at the airport, we waited for transportation into the city. Our transportation looked to be a well-maintained taxi, but actually turned out to be a lesson in customer service. Within 5 minutes, the driver, Mr. Moliere, established the time and the location of our meeting, recommended a nearby hotel for lunch, learned the time of our return flights, and arranged for taxi pickup so we could catch our return flights. Moliere did all this very efficiently, without expecting additional compensation. It was clear that he viewed our experience as part of his customer-service responsibilities.

I’ve thought about Moliere several times. The good customer service experience occurred because he

  1. determined our basic needs,
  2. found what was important to us, and
  3. reliably delivered what he promised.

I’ve thought about Moliere because the WEF Board of Trustees and the WEF staff have spent time this past year discussing good customer service. Determining the elements to good customer service started by recognizing that WEF has different and important customer groups — individual members and member associations (MAs) — with different needs. To meet the needs and expectations of these two groups, the first step was to reflect on this difference.

Early this summer, WEF reorganized membership services, creating one group for membership recruitment and services led by Wade Riess. This includes a dedicated membership/customer service staff that will study current member acquisition campaigns and membership retention efforts, as well as examine the Utility Partnership Program and other approaches to obtaining group affiliate members.

WEF MAs consider the effectiveness of membership campaigns extremely important because they receive benefits from both new and renewed members. But MAs also value a different set of services. These services were diffused within WEF but did not receive sufficient focus to fully assist MAs that face contemporary challenges. With the creation of a second group, Association Engagement, these services can take on a laser-like focus. Directed by Linda Kelly, the WEF group already has conducted many calls with MA leaders to gather feedback on their basic needs, see how WEF is doing to fulfill those needs, and learn what else is important to help MAs become vital and sustainable associations. If you haven’t been contacted yet, expect to be soon.

To help respond to customer service needs, the WEF Board of Trustees approved a 2014–2015 budget that includes

  • new funds to provide legal assistance or other professional consulting services;
  • increased funds for more staff visits to MAs to discuss various topics such as stormwater, government affairs, and energy expertise;
  • increased funds to enhance WEFMAX events; and
  • a dedicated staff group.

Members of the newly formed Association Engagement group share a passion for staff-volunteer partnerships, and, as their title states, are dedicated to “engagement” with the MA leaders and staff to implement what they call the vital four “C’s”: collaborating, communicating, convening, and providing stellar customer service. They are a seasoned WEF team, empowered to trouble-shoot issues and build relationships by tending to the big and small issues.

As Association Engagement develops and MAs become accustomed to seeking advice, counsel, or affirmation, WEF’s customer service will go to a new level, MAs will be stronger, membership will grow, and the sector as a whole will be healthier.

I look forward to seeing you in New Orleans next month for WEFTEC® 2014. I think you will gain a positive experience there that both WEF and Moliere consider top-notch customer service.

Sandra K. Ralston, WEF President 2013–2014

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