CCW probes will-to-pay and multi-source data to hone water firms' customer links

The Consumer Council for Water has published two research reports commissioned from researcher, ICF, to help water companies’ PR19 customer engagement efforts.

The first looks at how to improve willingness to pay research – the backbone of price review customer engagement work. Alongside answering specific research questions posed by CC Water, the report makes a number of recommendations for water companies’ stated preference programmes. These include:

  • take a strategic approach with a full range of research methods considered and determined at the outset;

  • prioritise the service attributes to include in stated preference research according to how important they are for business planning; and

  • test and refine survey questions and materials.

It also highlights useful innovations – for example, the use of stated preference and revealed preference together in one survey to generate a wider evidence base within individual studies, and innovations concerning materials used in surveys and the way they are shown to customers.

The second report focuses on triangulation and how companies can use different sources of customer evidence in business planning. It notes that while the basic principle of triangulation is widely used across the water sector, “the application of triangulation in the water industry is not matched by an appropriate level of guidance on how it can be implemented, in practice. Nor does the sector have any clear framework for how it can be applied to the specific challenges of business planning in a price-review context”.

To address the issue, the ICF study created a framework for the application of triangulation to the specific needs and context of the water sector, paying particular attention to the task of attributing relative weight and important to different evidence sources. It makes three key recommendations:

  • the framework should be used as the basis for exploring how triangulation can be applied at PR19;

  • water companies should consider the full variety of triangulation methods; and

  • water companies should use triangulation as an ongoing process, “rather than a one-off check on results. This would help them to utilise all potential evidence sources to validate findings, but also generate new insights into customer values and preferences”.