Northumbrian customers' awareness of retail competition is double average

Nearly two thirds of business customers in Northumbrian Water’s area are aware they can switch supplier from April, compared to one third nationally. Unprompted customer awareness levels in the Northumbrian region stood at 63% in a survey published yesterday by Ofwat – head and shoulders above both the national average of 30% and awareness levels in the next most aware regions: Anglian’s (38%) and United Utilities’ (35%). Awareness was lowest in the Severn Trent region, at 23%.

Nationally, the Ofwat study of c1,000 eligible customers suggests awareness of retail market opening in April has grown considerably over the last few months. With just ten weeks to go until market opening, the 30% unprompted awareness figure is far from impressive. But it compares favourably with the 8% awareness figure published in October in the Consumer Council for Water’s Testing the Waters research.

While the two surveys are not directly comparable, the difference in the figures suggests awareness has progressed. According to Ofwat’s study, 43% of the aware had heard through water company communications, and 35% via the media.

Findings elsewhere in the research suggest switching rates in the new market will be low. While just over half of respondents said they would consider switching when the market opens, most said their motivation would be financial (60% said they would be influenced to switch water supplier by saving money, for instance) with limited interest in switching for better customer service (10%) or improved water services (4%). Significant straightforward price discounts are not expected to be widely available.

Moreover, customer satisfaction levels with existing services were high at 76% overall and 68% for customer service. Again there is marked regional variation. On customer service, for instance, 87% of Northumbrian region customers are satisfied, compared to 52% in Severn Trent region. Curiously though, satisfaction levels do not equate with prospective stickiness in the study. For instance, only 40% of Severn region customers said they would consider switching water supplier, compared with 67% for Northumbrian.