In this blog post Gillian Winkler, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Safe Water Network, reflects on the first year of a dedicated household connection expansion programme in Ghana, including early results, insights from customers and what will be the focus for Year 2…
As a small water enterprise implementer in Ghana and India, Safe Water Network has always believed that consumers play a foundational role in the success of a water business, as revenue from customer purchases ensures a sustainable business model.
Our operating experience has established that, even among lower income customers, convenience is the most important buying consideration, ahead of price or water quality – a finding that is backed up by the 2017 study on the Untapped Potential of Decentralised Safe Drinking Water.
Household connections are the ultimate convenience, bringing piped water to the home 24/7 to meet all of its drinking, cooking and cleaning needs. By reducing additional storage and handling, household connections maintain high water quality from “source to sip” – critical for reaping the health benefits of safe water.
Safe Water Network has been offering household connections from our H2OME! Water Stations in Ghana since 2013, but largely on an ad-hoc basis with only light messaging in the community and expression-of-interest forms at standpipes. However, demand grew organically, and as we learned more about the positive impact of increased consumption through household connections on the Station bottom line, a clear opportunity to grow this segment emerged.
With support from the Stone Family Foundation, we crystallized these insights through a joint field visit with its founder John Stone, and subsequently launched a dedicated household connection initiative to maximize the number of household connections in our H2OME! Station cluster in Ashanti, Ghana, in January 2020.
The objective of this three-year initiative is to expand access to household connections and prove the financial viability of the approach at the Station level. The project involves three core components:
- Building a household connection-only greenfield Station with increased storage and distribution capacity, and a show home to demonstrate the benefits of household connections to consumers.
- Retrofitting three existing H2OME! Stations to increase capacity for household connections.
- Developing an internal sales function to drive the uptake of household connections.
We brought in a Head of Sales to oversee execution of the sales strategy, hired a field sales team, and worked with the Whitten & Roy Partnership to improve sales and marketing materials, develop a more aspirational sales pitch, and embed one-on-one field coaching for team members.
The first year has been a success at the greenfield Station. Safe Water Network has managed to connect over 500 households, demonstrating consumer demand that is higher than we initially anticipated. Early consumption data is also promising – over 85% of connected households purchase water regularly. We are interested to see how this evolves over time and impacts the financial viability of the Station now that the maximum number of households are connected.
This progress is also particularly heartening in the context of COVID. Despite free access to water at standpipes under the Government of Ghana’s water mandate, consumers prefer the comfort, convenience, quality, and safety of a home water supply.
As we have rolled out this major expansion of household connections, we still place customers at the heart of the business. We identified potential challenges, both at the start of the project and as we’ve gleaned learnings from each phase, and incorporated programming components to facilitate consumer decision-making, satisfaction, and ownership over their new household water supply.
For example, our sales team uses a GIS-enabled mobile app to walk prospective clients through the financial considerations of a new household connection. This not only allows the sales team to more effectively track and convert pitches into sales, it also provides clear pricing information to potential customers, so that they can see how much a new connection will cost and assess its impact on household finances.
A key finding during early implementation was that new household customers were often unfamiliar with using mobile money for water purchases, especially alongside prepaid meters. To help bring customers up to speed, we introduced training on both, and placed a dedicated customer service representative in the community. The representative responds directly to customer queries and provides crucial after-sales support to overcome any service and payment challenges. This has allowed the sales team to remain focused on bringing in new customers.
As we enter our second year, we are encouraged by the early results. We hope to replicate the success in sales and high-quality service delivery in three additional communities where existing H2OME! Stations are being retrofitted to facilitate hundreds more household connections. We believe household connections are transformative – not only for the convenience, health, and wellbeing of customers and their families, but also the commercial viability of the Stations.
We look forward to providing an update later in the year to share further insights, in particular the impact of household connection expansion on the H2OME! Station financial proposition as we continue to observe consumption and usage patterns.