By Greg Reyneke, MWS
Successful businesses are built broadly on the three Ps: people, products and process. While we as business owners and managers spend much of our time focusing on our own people, another group of people is frequently overlooked…the valuable people who invest in our products.
There is a significant uptick in demand for water quality improvement equipment recently and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Opportunities abound for us to serve new clients as well as continuing to serve those who already trust us with their water. Regardless of how long you’ve been in the water quality improvement industry, your level of formal education, or your job responsibility, you should continuously work to understand the needs, wants and hopes of our current and prospective clients.
The Water Quality Association (WQA) commissions a number of key consumer research studies at strategic intervals. These studies are conducted using appropriate demographics to deliver a high degree of statistical correlation to the real-world lived experience across regions. The data generated from this research aids us in better understanding our clients (current and prospective) and American water users in general. Good dealers are motivated to serve their clients with affordable water quality improvement solutions that address their concerns, so this study is really important. I am glad that we have access to this very relevant information.
At the WQA’s 2021 Conference and Trade Show, I had the opportunity to present analysis and commentary on the most recent study beside my erudite friends Mike Mitchell (Helen of Troy) and Toby Thomas (Kinetico). The 2021 data is enlightening and worth sharing with a broader audience. Here are the key points that we discussed:
Perceived safety of drinking water. Just over half of Americans believe that their water is safe, with the rest of them being unsure or not confident in the actual safety of their water.
Satisfaction with quality of household water. While they mostly believe their water is safe, less than a third of consumers are satisfied with the perceived quality of their water. As dealers in the United States, we are fortunate to deal with some of the safest water in the world that meets minimum standards most of the time. Even though this water is safe, most Americans don’t particularly like how it tastes or smells. This is hardly the fault of the utility; none of us want to pay more taxes than necessary and water treatment plant operators do a remarkable job with the limited funds that they’re budgeted. Coupled with an aging national infrastructure, climate change complications and an ongoing pandemic, it is quite remarkable that our delivered municipal water is as good as it actually is. It is also not logical or fair to expect the utility to go to the expense of delivering delicious water, since so little (typically less than one percent) of the municipal water is actually used for human consumption.
Compared to tap water, bottled water is…Many Americans turn to bottled water (almost 90 percent perceive it as generally better than tap water) primarily because of taste and convenience. Many users second-guess their bottled water choice because they are worried that it is from the same source as the tap water in their own homes – a good reminder to us that thoughtful, careful educational outreach is very important to help overcome some of the well-intentioned misinformation out there.
Awareness of substances/contaminants that could be in water. Americans have been inundated with information about potential waterborne contaminants through news and social media consumption. It is interesting to see what their declared concerns are, as compared to the reason(s) why they end up actually buying a system: 60 percent of survey respondents were interested in addressing lead and 50 percent were interested in addressing arsenic. Yet most people still buy a system because of taste and aesthetics! There is a lot of information out there, but it’s not all GOOD information; another reminder to dealers to be help educate their prospects and clients responsibly and ethically.
Responsibility of ensuring safe drinking water. The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing societal disruptions has emphasized the underlying desire from many consumers to take direct personal control of their own water quality and not just rely on the average or minimum standard. American consumers are becoming increasingly aware that even though the water they receive is generally safe, they are responsible for taking that good city water and making it great.
Willingness to have water treatment in their home under varying conditions. While the survey indicates that there are concerns about selection and maintenance (and even with 60+ percent of prospects preferring the city or water utility supplier to chose and maintain the system), we are now seeing more inquiries than ever before from people who want to improve their water safety, quality and aesthetics.
Installation of water softeners. While they’re looking to address specific things in their water, or to produce a specific outcome, survey respondents are very interested in the qualifications for who they’re going to be dealing with. Seventy-four percent purchase locally from home improvement stores, water treatment dealers, or plumbers, while only 10 percent purchase online. Sixty percent of respondents had their system installed by a local professional (dealer, store rep, plumber), reminding us that they seek the peace of mind that comes from trusting local professionals who have the knowledge, training, licensing and customer-support skills to ensure that it works properly and they get the desired outcome. One in four American households now has a water softener – the most penetration ever and nearly three-quarters of those purchasing a water softener do it within the first year of moving into their home!
Complex basis for selection of a service provider. Our prospective clients are looking for ways to improve the aesthetics, quality and sometimes even the safety of their water. They want to work with a company that can truly meet their needs. They’re not just buying from the person who yells the loudest, has the biggest billboard, or knocks on the most doors. Being more-informed than ever before and having access to a virtually unlimited amount of technical and marketing information, they empowered to research the companies they will be working with (I frequently have sales reps tell me that prospects were Googling them while they were in the middle of a sales visit and even commenting on the dealerships website or reviews from other clients.)
Your image and behavior are public information, protect them by always doing the right thing, even when you think nobody is watching you. Now more than ever before, professional certification, a simple clean web-presence and honest reviews carry a lot of weight in the prospect’s mind as they struggle to make their decision on the investment that they will soon be making on improving their quality of life through better water. I was particularly pleased to see that 42 percent of respondents place a high degree of importance in WQA certified personnel. This is truly the best way to ensure that a contractor (whether dealer or plumber) can do it right the first time and keep the system operating in top-top condition.
Degree of importance of salesperson attributes. As important as your company’s reputation is, the caliber of representative sent to the home, whether salesperson, water specialist or technician/plumber, is even more important. Smart dealers would be wise to focus on ensuring that their employees are WQA-certified and staying current on the latest industry education. Consumers are placing more credibility in WQA Certification than ever before – they view you and your team as a trusted local resource, you need to reinforce their opinion and be prepared with the very best information and industry best-practices to best serve them.
Beyond certification, we need to ensure that our corporate culture is one of transparency and care. Your team should be well-practiced in connecting with clients and prospects professionally with genuine empathy – we have to truly care about improving the lives of our clients through better water quality, not just about cashing that commission-check!
The WQA is a great resource for new and established businesses, providing the education, equipment certification and personnel certification to help you succeed. It is a great time to be in the water industry!
About the author
Greg Reyneke has almost three decades of ongoing experience in the management and growth of water treatment dealerships. His expertise spans the full gamut of residential, commercial and industrial water quality management applications. A recipient of the Ray Cross and Regents Awards, Reyneke has been active in the WQA since 2004 and has served on numerous committees and task forces. He is past-President of the Pacific Water Quality Association and serves on the WQA Board of Directors and Board of Governors. Reyneke writes prolifically and travels worldwide, helping to improve human life through better water quality. You can follow him on his blog at www.gregknowswater.com.