Category Archives: CCwater

The case for better behaviour

If I am to be honest, my reactions to many social issues, problems or general day to day decisions are based on gut feelings. I know full well these responses are in large part emotional and have been shaped over time by my background, experiences, politics and friends. I also notice it most when I am with colleagues who have been to private school or studied law. They argue using facts and weigh alternative arguments in their head – powered by a different style of education. I acknowledge “because it feels right” is not always a reasoned argument!

Which is, I suspect, why I am naturally drawn to behaviour change science. It gives a fancy name to exploring gut feelings, but of course is more complicated than that. Behind every rational decision we take, whatever our schooling, are more actions we don’t notice that are shaped by the environment and people around us, and which impact significantly on how we interact every day.

Club Soda is a behaviour change business because we are trying to support people to change a habit, by not only understanding how factors around us shape our everyday actions but also, by properly testing our gut feelings or hunches, we can find tools and techniques that will help people unpick and re-programme behaviours they want to change.

It is the same with my role at the Consumer Council for Water. The water sector is heavily regulated by logic, schedules, processes and contracts, and the water in our tap is brought to us by amazing feats of engineering. But how much we use, how we react when a pipe bursts, what we flush down the loo are governed by unseen psychological factors that are harder to manipulate. To make real change in this sector we need to be more scientific about behaviour.

Which is why I am jolly glad to have heard Rory Sutherland, from Ogilvy Change, speak last week (you can see his Tedex talk here). He describes himself as an accidental techie, but actually, what I see is an ideas person who likes exploring hunches and ideas, and can see how technology can measure and, if it works, make those ideas real. A man who has an instinctively good hunch about things but has realised these hunches can be tested and implemented – small tweaks leading to sustainable change at a fraction of the cost.

One example Rory used was HS2. Like him, every time I go to Manchester I think about whether HS2 is necessary. Surely making journeys easier to work on rather than shorter is what could improve the flow of business between the North and South? Rory shared a number of hunches around HS2 that are completely rational if you think about it for at least a second, and must be worth testing out before the Government spends millions unnecessarily. But why is it not happening?

We already have evidence that small tweaks can achieve great change, for example Ogilvy have successfully redesigned the security scanning system at an airport based on knowledge of queue panic as well as customer flow – interestingly the same behaviour we have identified as being a major issue for customers wanting to make healthier decisions at the bar!

The Government is not blind to this stuff. It has a behavioural insights team after all, but its reach is not yet very wide, and its influence not very deep. I have learnt a lot from the Government team – I have seen the outcomes of their work on tax payments a few times. But they are basically tasked with nudging the existing system using mostly comparison and penalty. They have not, for example, had the opportunity to re-engineer the whole tax system to change how we view and pay taxes as a society, using reward triggers instead. Now there is a real challenge that would involve behaviour change to be considered at policy stage!

Nudging people within badly designed services and isolating behaviour change within a few disciplines (letters and payments) is not a game changer. As a society we need behavioural insight to go deeper – all the way into policy making. That is a tall order, but we could begin to show the power of behaviour change methodology by introducing it as a step before major financial commitments such as HS2 – there should be time and space to explore hunches before we throw money at a problem.

From a Club Soda and CC Water point of view this raises other questions the are worth exploring. How can both be agile enough to test hunches before making big changes, planning new programmes or shelling out cash!

CCWater is reorganising its structure and developing a new business plan. It has an opportunity to not only look at what it wants to achieve but the most effective way to do that. Looking at how behaviour change is a feature of everything it does and using it as driver for agile working – using the super combination of staff and local consumer advocates to test hunches in a meaningful way to make rapid changes in the way it delivers its service and supports the sector to achieve some of the big behaviour change challenges (reducing usage, metering, waste disposal). This is not traditional big scale customer research but service design, rapid prototype testing and implementation.

Testing gut feelings is what we do by accident at Club Soda, as this is the nature of a start-up. So for us the challenge is how we embed our learning about behaviour change as we evolve the service and create processes so it’s built in from the start. Every thing we write, every piece of design, every widget we add to the website has the potential to support the behaviour change our members want to achieve. How do we do this quicker, cheaper and improve outcomes for our members as a result?

To me using behaviour change and agile methodology is a no-brainer for any service, but especially public services. The question is how do we get there quicker?

Ironically that is a behaviour change project in its own right. So I guess I throw this back as a challenge to Rory, who sits in a position that means he is more likely to be listened to. And how can he engage those in other aligned domains to superpower that goal?

In the meantime you could do worse than downloading UCL’s Behaviour Change Taxonomy app and looking at their online training and other materials. I find it a useful way to order my thoughts when writing anything for Club Soda.

Should we be more worried about the usual than the unusual?

imagesOut of all he unusual things discovered in Britain’s sewers sex ‘adult’ toys surprise me the least. I suspect its quite easy to lose some smaller ‘items’ down the u-bend!

It’s the list of do’s and don’ts and the consequences of these items cluttering our sewage system that interest me more.

The odd butt plug going amiss is an accident, but what are the regular items that we are constantly chucking down the sewers that are causing the biggest problems?

So these are the questions the latest ‘sewer news‘ news raise for me?

As a mooncup user of over 10 years I am very happy to longer flush any ‘over taxed’ sanitary items down the loo (although obviously I do flush lots of cups of blood – not on the P list). But what damage do tampons do? And are people flushing the plastic backed sanitary towels – is this an issue? Are these more or less dangerous than disposable wipes?

I always got that flushing fats down the sink is a bad idea, but as a 5th floor flat dweller, I now realise that flushing them down the loo just creates a problem further on (saving the pipes in your property is only part of the story). Is the tactic of diluting it and breaking it down with washing liquid still not good enough? Is this only about big batches of fat or is all fat in the system bad?

What about coffee grounds? which seem to clog up the pipework in many a victorian building in London. I really want to find a way to stop every at google campus flushing them down the sink – we flush them down the loo. Good or bad? Is the bin or food recycling the only option?

I am sure the list of questions water customers have is longer than this and whilst I know the advice is to keep to ‘Paper, Pee and Poo’, individuals will often make decisions based on ‘least worst option’ – I would be interested to know what questions others have.

For me, I want to know what the top 10 worst (rather then unusual) items are that damage our sewerage system.

Please join in!

The power of complaining

I always encourage people to complain. You spend good money on things (through buying or taxation) and it seems mad that we accept poor quality, bad value and shoddy service. But complaining is hard it takes time and energy and we don’t always know what ‘good’ is and when services fall short. Complaints are also not the same – there is a  big difference between your water supply not working in your home and thinking that generally, a service could have been delivered better. The staff a bit nicer.

For me complaining is not about the one interaction I may have with a company or public service that was a bit shoddy – for me it is about the next customer too. If the company does not know that this a problem that affects many their customers how can they change what they do. Get better. This is why I complain. Lots.

I complain mostly to banks, especially because they ask you to either write or use a premium rate number to make a compliant. This, in my view, is a poor service tax and is completely unacceptable. It should never cost me money to complain.  I also always ask how things will change as a result of my complaint.

It is part of the reason why I went for a role at CCWater. I wanted to champion the consumer and level the playing field for customers in a sector that used to be a public utility where the relationship is complex. You can’t move water supplier. It is also a vital service (water and sewage) that keep us healthy. Water is precious.

As always these things are not simple. In water a complaint about price, a leak, customer service, a major incident are all different. They alert a company to something fundamental and sometimes unique about their service offer and how it can improve or deal with risk and disaster. But whatever the complaint, they are all about a element of service delivery and how it can improve or evolve.

Water is not an easy  business, but it is affected by the weather (flood or drought) with an infrastructure that is buried underground with expensive and technical equipment that purifies the water we drink. It needs keep pace with the things (like pesticides) that sneak in and affect it. Most business will never have to deal with such a complex set of external, unknown factors.

The bill and its cost is the simplest complaint of all, and in most cases it is the only interaction we ever have with a water company. The only lever we have as customers.

So what am I getting at?

I have heard a series of presentations from water companies today about their complaint numbers.  The payments they get for delivering water in part relies on good performance in this area. I am generally quite impressed, water companies are not slow in innovating around complaints. They do see them as fundamental to service delivery. They have an incentive to do well.

So here are my key thoughts from the presentations today:

How do you measure light touch comments and complaints made through non-traditional providers?

Complaint numbers for most industries are collated from the phone and email complaints. But there are many more ways to complain – they may be a quick picture of a water leak from the phone on twitter. Is it captured? Does it count? Do you ask people to go and fill in an online form? (yes Islington Council I am looking at you here)

Is the sector interacting with new platforms powered by consumers rather than themselves? I am keen to talk to Resolver about how complaints to Thames Water and other companies is going. How are they planning to disrupt complaints ? What can water companies learn (what can CCWater learn?). Are these complaints measured? Are they included in the ‘official’ figures?

Is the process for comments and ideas different to complaints?

Islington once sent out a great set of posters saying they were a listening Council. They wanted ideas as well as complaints. But there was a no process for an idea or comment. Everything was treated as a complaint. You can’t have the same process for engaging people around ideas as you do problems. You have to build new systems that do the right job.

How can water companies really engage customers in co-designing and even prototyping their future? A good case in point is redesigning bills. Water bills go out once a year the window of opportunity to change it narrow – not very agile.  Maybe there is a group of customers that could form something more dynamic than a focus group and instead become the companies early trial group. Here I always use the example of the Maramarati (of which i am a dedicated member) – a dedicated fan group who test ideas (mostly marketing) for social media before they are launched on the public. It is harder to engage people around being a special-sub group around water. Not impossible. But its a challenge worth investigating (I see water conservation and health being key pulls). These customers could be tour beta testers and changes can be made before roll out. Real critical friends.

I am interested to here more innovation and ideas of good practice in this area and if there is inspiration from other sectors.

How do you think ahead?

Competition is about to come into water for non-domestic customers and there could be some spin-offs for household customers – businesses demanding more and better can drive change as a whole. But I don’t think this is the only change driver – technology, environment and political and policy changes will create a different expectation from customers. How you use all these factors as a positive rather than something that takes you by surprise.

How do we (CCWater) use what we know about water companies and their customers to campaign back to water regulators and the Government?

I don’t think this role (a LCA) is a one way street. Meeting the challenge of us all using less water is not just the responsibility of water companies. But its not clear who is taking the lead. The same with the complete arse about tit way the social tariff has been done (more on this at a later date). What are the issues we can take back the other way, bring together a coalition of interested parties and make a real difference? There was a long list produced at recent stakeholder meetings and I would be interested if, in developing its workplan, CCWater will be introducing some bark as well as bite.