Representing several Kentucky areas — from Bowling Green to Oldham County to small towns in Bath County — water professionals converged at our Third Street headquarters on September 14 for utility management training.
The group is participating in a six-class program called the Utility Management Institute, which is sponsored by the KY Rural Water Association. Louisville Water has hosted an Association class on communications and stakeholder engagement for more than two decades.
This year, Vice President Kelley Dearing Smith, Senior Utilities Consultant Vince Guenthner, and Education and Outreach Manager Channa Newman led a group representing about 20 other water utilities.
Dearing Smith told the participants that the only time customers see or hear from their utility should not be when they need money or "there's a crisis because something breaks."
"We look at why it’s important to communicate, how to use simple strategies to educate the community, and how to build relationships with customers, elected leaders, and key stakeholders, including the health department and large employers," Dearing Smith said.
"Most of the utility representatives who attended the training don’t have a dedicated communications department and many don’t know where to start in communicating beyond sending a bill," she added. "The goal is to give them simple strategies and ideas they can implement whether they have three or 30 employees.”
Newman led an exercise in which the attendees wrote how their customers would describe their utility on a post-it note. While many of these theoretical customer comments were positive, some were not, which Newman pointed out as an opportunity to start engaging with customers more often and building the utility’s brand.
Dearing Smith pointed out that "Louisville Water is looked to as a model for communications and education/outreach, and we’re proud to offer ideas and help shape the message."
The company's status as a leader is evidenced by some of the communication material that other utilities now produce. For instance, the Warren County Water District is printing a hand-washing poster similar to Louisville Water's. The Oldham County Water District now offers customers a branded reusable water bottle like Louisville Water does. Oldham County even uses the same vendor to produce their bottles.