Water companies should take decisive action to boost unimpressive levels of customer satisfaction with fairness and value for money, according to a report by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater).
The water watchdog’s latest annual Water Matters survey shows that while 9 out of 10 customers are satisfied with their water and sewerage services, only 6 in 10 agree that their charges are fair – a figure that has remained static for seven years.
Perceptions of fairness are strongly influenced by customer experience, according to Water Matters. Those customers who think charges are unfair are more likely to have made contact with their water company in the past 12 months, and are also less likely to recommend their water company or believe the company cares. Negative perceptions of fairness can also have an underlying effect on satisfaction in other areas such as value for money, so by addressing this, water companies can make positive progress towards improving wider customer perceptions.
By failing to address these long-term trends, water companies are risking increasing levels of customer discontent, says Mike Keil, CCWater’s Head of Policy and Research: “Customers’ perceptions of fairness and value for money have remained disappointingly static for seven years, and it’s no surprise that the water sector is now coming under increased scrutiny. Just this year, service interruptions caused by March’s ‘Beast from the East’ and the current spell of dry weather have led to frustration among customers. Unless water companies take action now, it’s unlikely that we will see a reversal of this trend anytime soon.”
Keeping customers informed year-round – and not just when problems occur – is a key way in which water companies can develop positive relationships with customers and improve their perceptions. Providing clear and accessible information about the issues customers care about – such as how their bills are funding resilient supply networks and reducing leakage – can help to increase customers’ trust in their supplier, and while improvement is needed across the industry, some water companies have proven that it can be done.
Over the past seven years, customers’ views on the fairness of charges have improved for three companies: Welsh Water, South West Water and Wessex Water. However, while these improvements show that customer perceptions of fairness can be changed for the better, the failure of the industry as a whole to address the long-term issue also shows that more work needs to be done.
The Consumer Council for Water is urging water companies to be more than ‘silent providers’, challenging mediocre performance and making every contact count positively with their customers.
Affordability is also a key factor influencing customers’ perceptions of fairness. Mike Keil adds: “While all companies now offer social tariffs to customers in financial difficulty, we think that there is an opportunity for companies to do a lot more in this area, for example by expanding these schemes and contributing more towards them.
“What’s clear is that every contact made is an opportunity for water companies to increase trust and change customer attitudes by providing a positive experience.”