It is a vital part of a successful business in the water well industry.
By Gary Shawver, MGWC
As an officer in the Armor Cavalry of the Iowa National Guard, I learned failure to communicate could mean disaster for your troops. “Move, shoot, and communicate” was our motto. I carried the motto into the groundwater industry.
When one works in an industry where there isn’t much to see of the finished product and where the underground geology can play havoc with the best laid plans of men, it is vital we who serve in the water well drilling industry learn to communicate with our customers and other industry professionals (engineers and consultants).
Considering most people outside the groundwater industry know little about underground geology and aquifers—and even less about constructing a water well—it is imperative we take time to explain what we do and why we might construct a well in the manner we do.
Communication needs to occur before, during, and after the project. This is especially critical if problems arise that were not anticipated.
While some contractors operate in areas where geological conditions are consistent, well depth is easily predicted, and issues or problems during construction are rare—that isn’t the case for everyone.
I used to drill in an area where geological conditions were inconsistent. As a result, the estimates we provided customers included price ranges rather than specifics. The ranges in price were based on different well depths that might be necessary to provide the customer with a quality well.
These estimates were provided in writing and included a cover letter outlining how geological conditions can impact well depths. This was done to make sure our customer was well informed prior to starting the project.
While this information could have been communicated verbally, it is a fact people retain just 25% of what they hear—especially if it is a topic they know little or nothing about.
We found by doing this we minimized the potential of an unhappy customer. Additionally, we were often told this was far more information than they received from our competitors.
We would occasionally work for building contractors where we were subcontracted to do the well for a new home project. If this were the case, we always sat down with the homeowner prior to starting the project and went over the well and well construction with them.
We insisted on this protocol and found most general contractors were agreeable. While some weren’t excited about it, after explaining why it was important, most went along with our requirement.
When you learn to communicate clearly about wells and well construction with your customers, I believe you will find they are pleased you take the time to do this and I surmise you may cut down on any problems during or after the fact.
It makes life in this industry much easier. And while it takes time, dealing with problems after the fact can take a lot more time and give you a lot more grief.
While communication with your customers is vital, communication with your employees is equally important. If you operate a company and have employees working for you, good communication about everything is extremely important. Think about it—everything done in a company with your employees is instrumental to the overall success of the company.
Here are a few examples.
- If you have jobs to do, especially if these jobs are new wells to be constructed, the contractor doing the project needs to know all the following items to successfully complete the job.
- How to get to the location and avoid any routes that may impede getting there. For example, if you work in rural areas and there are bridges or roads that have weight embargos, the crew needs to know this in advance.
- What is the job site like? Is it tight? Is it a difficult site to enter and set up in?
- Are there issues the customer is sensitive to about their property (special trees, or where the discharge of the drilling effluent is going to go)?
- Does the property need a utility locate? If so, the crew needs to be sure it has been done before proceeding.
- At what depth will you be finishing the well? What formations are you going to drill through? What depth is the casing going to be set at? What type of grout is going to be used?
- How much water does the customer desire or need from the well?
These are just a few of the examples of job issues and problems that need to be clearly communicated to the crew to ensure a positive outcome for both the crew and the customer.
So how do you communicate all this information clearly? Again, remembering people retain 25% of what they hear, ensuring details such as those listed are retained is important.
I found the best way to do this was with a job overview report. I did this by dictating the information into a recorder after meeting with the customer and then having someone at our office transcribe it into a report for the crew. Or I would type up the report myself. Depending on the nature of the job and the issues associated with it, these would often dictate whether I did it on my own.
If the job wasn’t going to be done for a few weeks or a month, putting this report together also made sure the details of the job would not be forgotten.
When it came time to do the job, I would sit down with the contractor in charge of the project and go over the report with him personally. Doing this allowed the contractor to ask me questions and cover details I may have left out. The contractor then also had a copy of the report in hand, so if he did not retain something on the job site he could refer to the report.
I found this process eliminated many potential issues about projects, and customers found we were attentive to detail. When you can eliminate these simple potential problems with the customer in advance, it makes for a happy customer in the end.
Lastly, if you have new employees, good communication with them is vital to their success with your company. If a new employee knows from the start what is expected and what they will be held accountable for, it gives you a much better chance to retain this employee. This one-on-one interaction lets them know you care.
Good communication eliminates the “assume.” That’s where problems often start. Learn to communicate with your customers and your employees, and your business will have a much better chance of being profitable and managing will be a much easier task.
Mastering good communication is a must for all business operators regardless of the type of business you run—but especially so in businesses where you can’t always see what one is doing.
Gary Shawver, MGWC, is president of Shawver Well Co. Inc. in Fredericksburg, Iowa. He has been in the water well industry for 40 years and is a Master Groundwater Contractor. He has served as president of the Iowa Water Well Association, the Iowa Groundwater Association, and most recently served on the NGWA Board of Directors. Shawver is semi-retired, having sold his business to his employees. He contributes to NGWA’s member e-publication and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.