The first step in developing a Level of Service Agreement is determining the goals of your utility. Goals can be in any of the following areas:
- Energy Efficiency
- Water Efficiency/Conservation
- Social Considerations
- Environmental Considerations
- Customer Service
- Regulatory Requirements
The goals will be a combination of internally set goals and externally set goals. Internally set goals are those goals that define utility operations, but are not easily understood by utility customers. Examples of these types of goals include:
- Maintenance Scheduling
- Energy Efficiency
- Number of pipe breaks per mile
- Unaccounted for water
Internally set goals can be set by utility staff. It is best to involve a cross-section of utility personnel from elected officials to management to operations when setting goals to ensure that the goals are feasible and reasonable. In a small utility, goals may be set by the utility board with input from the operator. Alternatively, the board president may work with the operator to set goals, which can then be approved by the entire board.
External goals are items that directly impact customers. Examples of these types of goals are:
- Response time for water outages or sewer back-ups
- Response time for customer complaints
- Water savings from water conservation
- Minimum water pressure
The basic question a utility should ask itself when trying to set
external goals is "What do my customers want?" This question can
only be answered effectively by engaging in a conversation with the
customers. This type of conversation can be conducted in any way that
is feasible and practical for the utility and its customers.
For example, a small utility with less than 100 customers may be
able to go door to door and ask for feedback. A utility that holds
annual meetings may be able to get feedback from an annual meeting.
A larger utility may wish to hold focus groups with randomly selected
customers. Surveys can be included with utility bills or can be mailed
out. Communities that have more access to technology may wish to use
internet based polls or ask for feedback on a social networking website.
If a customer call/complaint log is kept at the utility, the information
obtained from these phone calls can be examined. The main objective is
to change the dynamic of standard customer communications from adversarial
to one in which the customers are engaged as partners or collaborators.