This article originally appeared in WQP April/May 2021 issue as "Selling With Science"
Many dealers in the industry are probably already familiar with the Softened Water Benefits Study, also known as the Battelle Study, and the Septic Study funded by the Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF). These two studies have provided value for the industry by giving dealers independent research to work into their sales scripts and talking points with homeowners. As the concept of final barrier continues to become more widely emphasized, WQRF’s newly completed research focusing on point-of-use (POU) and the removal of health contaminants also has a place in the day-to-day business for dealers and manufacturers.
Your Credibility Counts
Credibility and trust are king when it comes to growing your customer base and having a successful business. When it comes to considering a purchase, 85% of consumers regularly or occasionally seek out experts and credible, third-party information or reviews (1). All consumer-facing water treatment professionals may one day be asked about a water crisis that their customer hears about in the news, such as boil-water notices or lead contamination. Companies will present themselves as that expert when their teams are well-versed in the latest research. You do not need to have all the answers about a specific situation in a community to still have a response that demonstrates knowledge and credibility. That is where the WQRF research reports provide value.
For some public water customers, a boil-water notice (BWN) is the first time they are ever confronted with an issue with their water and the unknown can be stressful. Consumers may not know if the water is safe for bathing or showering, and in some cases, it may even result in a shortage of bottled water in their local grocers which can induce even more panic. This recently occurred in parts of Texas due to winter storms and subsequent power outages which left millions of people under a BWN (7). With aging infrastructure, there may be more occurrences of BWN’s in the future. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that a water main breaks in the U.S. every two minutes, meaning 240,000 water main breaks per year (2).
Boil-Water Notices Boost Purchasing
As we know from the consumer opinion study, 41% of respondents said they purchased water filtration systems after an “unsafe for use” or “boil water notice” situation in their area (3). This is an opportunity for water treatment professionals to reach out to new customers and service existing customers. The Boil Water Notices of the US, 2012-2014 funded by WQRF was the first effort to track the reasons causing BWN’s and look for trends in the data, such as regional or seasonal trends.
The research showed the overwhelming majority of BWN’s are precautionary for a potential for but not confirmed microbial contamination; 53% were from water main breaks and leaks, 14% from low-pressure events; and 14% from confirmed microbial contamination (4). A precautionary notice occurs when there is a potential for microbiological contamination and if it is never confirmed. A home water treatment system certified for microbial reduction can be a final barrier of protection for these unanticipated events.
The research also validated a news media search method using the terms, “boil water,” “limited use of water” and “do not drink water” were the most successful terms that resulted in tracking a BWN. Using a service, such as Google alerts, with these search terms allows a company to receive a notification when a BWN has occurred in their area, prepare for customer calls or support the public with questions.
Your staff can speak to the various reasons why these notifications occur by referencing the WQRF research. You can make a particular point regarding the precautionary nature to be sure to avoid scare tactics and then present options a homeowner has for a final barrier if they have concerns. After a BWN is lifted, existing equipment should be sanitized and any carbon, media or membranes should be replaced. During a BWN event, there is a need to service your existing customers, as well as support questions from the public and opportunities for a final barrier of protection with certified products.
POU & Contaminants
Regarding POU treatment for health contaminants, WQRF funded a cost-benefit analysis that researchers have published in two peer-reviewed scientific journals. The report found POU is a cost-beneficial strategy on a national scale for microbials when considering the total disease burden of 10 of the most common waterborne pathogens (5).
The case study of Flint, Michigan, demonstrated that POU devices in that situation would also have been cost-beneficial, as the lifetime economic impact of the community from lead exposure is estimated at $435 million and POU activated carbon filters for five-years would have been $11 million (6). This article was published before some major settlements occurred that has put the total economic cost of the lead crisis at more than $1 billion now (8). This case study validates POU as a risk mitigation strategy for lead. POU should be considered when communities are undergoing lead service line replacements or construction that may disturb the water chemistry or sediment of lead pipes. The topic of lead contamination is a topic that typically grabs news media attention and the attention of anyone living in the surrounding area.
You can be prepared to comment on the case study of Flint and how POU makes the most economic sense in high-risk situations. You can also communicate quick action a homeowner can take for protection if there is an issue with lead or construction planned in their area. Make sure to recommend a water sample from a state-certified laboratory to confirm any contaminant when discussing with customers.
WQA Code of Ethics Offers Guidelines
Brush up on the Water Quality Association (WQA) Code of Ethics Marketing Guidelines on a regular basis, ideally every year when you renew your membership with WQA. As POU and water quality continues to gain more attention, using research will empower you to educate the public. You can find more information and WQRF research reports on www.wqrf.org/completed-studies
- Global Trust in Advertising. Neilson Global Media. Retrieved from: https://www.nielsen.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2019/04/global-trust-in-advertising-report-sept-2015-1.pdf
- American Society of Civil Engineers. American Society of Civil Engineers Announces “Moving America Forward” Presidential Candidate Forum on Infrastructure at UNLV. Retrieved from: https://www.asce.org/templates/press-release-detail.aspx?id=34225
- Applied Research-West. WQA Consumer Opinion Study. Retrieved from: https://www.wqa.org/Portals/0/Publications/ConsumerStudy2019_Public.pdf
- Reynolds, Kelly. Boil Water Notices in the U.S., 2012-2014. University of Arizona. Retrieved from: https://www.wqa.org/Portals/0/WQRF/ResearchStudy_BoilWaterAlerts-
- Verhougstraete, Marc et al. Cost-benefit analysis of point-of-use devices for health risks reduction from pathogens in drinking water. Journal of Water and Health. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33328368/
- Verhougstraete, Marc et al. Cost-benefit of point-of-use devices for lead reduction. Environmental Research. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0013935119300180?via%3Dihub
- Romo, Vanessa. Millions in Texas Under Boil Water Notices because of Winter Storms. National Public Radio. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-winter-storms-2021/2021/02/17/968887365/millions-in-texas-under-boil-water-notices-because-of-winter-storm
- Associated Press and ABC12 News Staff. Michigan lawmakers approve $1 billion borrowing plan for Flint water settlement. Retrieved from: https://www.abc12.com/2020/12/16/michigan-lawmakers-approve-1-billion-borrowing-plan-for-flint-water-settlement/