Water firms emerge as not good but not bad in debt recovery practice study

Water companies are viewed by customers as among the companies least likely to adopt best practice in debt recovery while also being unlikely to adopt poor practice according to findings by market researcher Echo Managed Services.

Echo looked at debt recovery practice in eight business sectors. Water companies were in sixth position on best practice with a score of 43.86 relative to the 100 assigned to the pole position holder – retailers. On worst practice water firms were seventh with 41.24 with energy companies emerging as the poorest performers closely followed by local authorities and credit card firms.

"Whilst not perceived to be the worst industry when it comes to debt collection practice, consumers clearly felt that companies in the water sector had room for improvement," said Echo's customer service director Monica Mackintosh.

“Ultimately, everyone has the potential to fall into arrears at some point - whether it’s consciously or not – so treating these customers badly isn’t fair, nor effective," she said.

"Transparent and regular communication and payment reminders are essential here, and can lead to quicker and fairer outcomes – sometimes even reducing instances of accrued debt in the first place," she added. Failure to follow these recommendations could ersult in lost customers and reputational damage Mackintosh warned. "This will become of increasing importance to the water sector as we draw closer to non-household market opening in 2017, and the possibility of household competition as early as 2020.”

While most customers said they preferred to receive a telephone call, 24% said they would favour a text message. Best practice, according to Echo, included a friendly approach by helpful staff who are equipped with the customers full account information; easy payment options for people struggling to pay bills; and clear charges. Echo emphasised its finding that staff debt recovery agents should be fully informed about each of the customers they contact to avoid, for example, the need for the customer to repeat information.

Best practice (100 means most likely to adopt)

Retail 100

Bank 70.18

Energy companies 59.65

Car finance 54.39

Cred Card 52.63

water co 43.86

Telco 40.35

Local authorities 31.58

Worst practice (100 means most likely to adopt)

Energy companies 100

Local authorities 94.85

Credit Card 92.78

Telecoms 65.98

Retail 58.76

Bank 51.55

Water 41.24

Car finance 37.11

The report can be found here