5 Customer Strategies Water Leaders need to increase Trust

‘Is that a type of explosive?’

  Was my first response when I started a piece of work with a water company 5 years ago and the term CMEX was thrown around the room. As it transpires its actually a measure of Customer used by the water regulator. Over that 5 years I’ve learned a lot about the water industry and how it operates. I’m also a Customer (as we all are). I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in almost every function of a water company and I have found the whole system fascinating, and I’ve not seen any explosives in use as yet.


If you’re a water leader with a Customer focus, or any Customer leader for that matter, read on….

Winning at Customer means winning the league as a Water company

One thing that I have immediately latched onto as an interest was the role of the regulator, with the targets that are set and how these then manifest into strategy and ultimately the execution within water companies. I understand the need to drive improvement for customers, but this has left me feeling there could be better ways than league table comparisons coupled with financial penalties. With league tables there has to be winners and losers even if those deemed to be losing have actually made significant improvement from where they were.

“Without losers, where would the winners be?” – Casey Stengel

CMEx, DMEx & RMEx are the Customer trio for Water

Some of the measures that I’ve had the benefit of being around are the Customer focussed ones, the MEx trio (for some reason I think of this as the 3 amigos but that’s probably just me). These measures are there to help understand how a water company is performing for its customers, through using a customer satisfaction type approach. I’m sure all water companies will have developed their own customer strategy for how they intend to achieve improvements in these measures but unfortunately not all strategies are created equal and the consequence for either a poor thought out strategy or maybe even worse, poor execution, is low league table positions and ultimately penalties.

Customer measures in water, aren’t easy to improve 


I really feel for leaders in this environment, it’s really challenging as often priorities in these targets can clash and difficult decisions can form a staple part of a normal day. Having to navigate operational challenges and keeping the customer forefront whilst relating back to these core measures requires purposeful leadership and high levels of resilience amongst other things. What I have seen from water companies in dealing with the current pandemic is nothing short of amazing but it has made the role of leadership even harder to navigate as things have started to come back online, but how people are expected to work has very much changed.


Take a look at the key Customer metrics, water leaders work with here:

All of this makes for a difficult environment for leaders to achieve (not everyone can win) and so it’s important that sound strategy and execution are front of mind. To help with some thinking around this we’ve pulled out 5 things you should consider as a fundamental part of your strategy, to help ensure an improvement in your MEx performance.


Here they are :

1. Create different thinking in middle managers

Have you ever heard the Einstein quote:

“we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them?”

Well we believe that applies here. Middle managers are critical to your Customer efforts. They are able to create environments for people to either flourish or flounder. You need this group of people to take up the challenge and one way to do that is to invite them into a collaborative learning journey. The benefits of taking such an approach with this group of people is far and wide and should definitely be considered by all teams.

 What do we mean by a collaborative learning journey?

 Essentially we are promoting the idea of framing a journey with ALL of the following elements (but not restricted to just these)

  • Collaboration with peers in a learning environment
  • Time carved out to support learning in the work
  • A framework provided to support and drive learning that also allows flexibility
  • Leadership commitment to the journey including involvement in it
  • Outside thinking brought inside to disrupt the status quo
  • Accountability for learning placed on the individual

 We know this is a good list from the interventions we’ve delivered.

 How are your middle managers currently evolving their thinking and is there more you could be doing in this space?

 2. Connect people in from the ground up

No doubt you will have a vision for the water company as a whole but an often underestimated element is that of a team level Vision. This isn’t something that replaces the company vision, more so a way of inviting everyone into being a part of something bigger and creating complete alignment. Imagine if everyone was pushing in the same direction with the same amount of energy. This has a huge impact on your ability to move the dial on the regulator targets.

The trouble with getting this kind of approach into the middle layers is the worry at the top of organisations that this will take the focus off, even destroy the meaning of the company vision at the lower levels. In our experience this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Usually, the reality is, in large organisations especially, that the people from the middle down don’t get your vision anyway as its just some words to them. So by not giving them a voice, the ability to make their own meaningful connection you are actually undermining your own efforts to paint a picture of the direction you’re heading.

Obviously you need to ensure alignment but then if you are connected with your teams you will easily be able to make that happen as you help them to understand a richer picture of where the company is heading and not just a statement.

Cameron Herold did a really nice TED talk relating to this concept.

How connected are your people with your top level vision? Whatever you answered in your head, how do you know?

3. Align metrics for everyone 

You don’t want a scenario where you are measuring one team on building a bridge and another on digging the tunnel!!

 When was the last time you looked at what you were measuring, how it links to achieving your big goal, the decisions taken as a result and fundamentality the behaviours that are driven. Having confidence that the measures are the right ones is so important. Imagine if everyone was driving performance but it was taking you further away from the big goal. Pulling people together to agree these and how they align is an ongoing activity that’s a must.

“Customers suffer as a result of crap measures!!” – Jason

It’s true, they do and you probably don’t even know it. Everything looks great but under the surface it isn’t. Crap measures will make you blind to the reality your Customers are facing. With the MEx measures they can give you an indication but they are flawed for improving your efforts on a number of counts:


  1. They’re lagging – its too late when you get told you’re not good enough
  2. They only target a small population – there are millions more people out there
  3. They don’t necessarily provide insight into the real problem


So, when was the last time you looked at what you were measuring and what that was actually giving you?

4. Champion improvement thinking for everyone

Most water companies have in excess of a few hundred people. That’s hundreds of brains all focussed on the company at any one time. What if you could have all of that brain power focussed on the right things at the right time using the right thinking. Empowering people to solve worthwhile problems which connects to the bigger goal can be a game changer against any big goal. If problem solving for everyone isn’t part of your strategy then maybe consider introducing this.

“There is no limit to the power of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point” – Swami Vivekanada

 This is surely a no brainer, right? (pun).

 So why don’t more companies leverage this?

 In our experience the main reasons companies don’t focus on this is time and money. SHOCK!!

 If this is you then maybe have a think about the time that is wasted as a result of not doing this in the first place through, rework, attrition, non value added work etc etc. If you think its an expensive place to reach you’re missing the point, the best way is to build your own internal capability base first in your leaders and managers and flow out from there. Its easy to plant a couple of seeds in this sense and support them to grow 

 How does your problem solving capability look right now? Is it even part of your strategy?

5. Have coaching as a staple habit in the environment

 The above image was created by Marcus Buckingham and really highlights a key difference between feedback and coaching.

If I asked any water company I am sure most would see this as being something that is already in full flow within their business or at least parts of it. But is this really coaching or is it more feedback and advice? There is a huge difference here.


Coaching as a habit doesn’t just happen, it needs to be nurtured and ultimately role modelled. The emergence of coaching as part of the environment is transformative for any business, function, department or team. It requires different thinking from managers. This therefore brings us back to number one on our list and the need to create different thinking in our middle managers.

 This particular change requires a lot of effort and self reflection. It’s hard work and can be uncomfortable for some. So in case you weren’t convinced by the pay off, here are some stats that may help (source: ICF 2009). They may be more than 10 years old but this would definitely still hold true today:

  • 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence
  • over 70% reported benefits from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills
  • 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment on coaching and more

 There is a direct link between these sorts of results and the impact these people have on your Cust2qaomers (hopefully no stats required to be able to see that one).

Are your Customer Strategies good enough?


In summary, a great customer strategy will not only cover the What but will also articulate the How. Without a How you do not have a viable strategy. Your people should be at the centre of your strategy, they are your single biggest asset in achieving your CMEx/DMEx goals. Therefore, a big focus of your how’s should be around your people.


 I hope you found this useful. Please, review your customer strategies, check back to the 5 learns and look for your how’s.

If you would like to discuss your customer strategy further and our HOW’s around these 5 opportunities, please get in touch at Jason@getknowledge.co.uk




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