Watchdog finds performance alone is not enough to keep the customer satisfied

Water companies need to provide both an excellent service and manage their customers’ perceptions of services, if they are to keep customers satisfied, according to analysis from the Consumer Council for Water.

Under pressure: the gap between performance and perceptions uses data the watchdog already collects to explore the relationship between customer satisfaction and water company performance in areas including bills, leakage and supply interruptions. It found: “In general, there is little correlation between consumers’ satisfaction with service and actual performance or bill levels. Only a moderate correlation was seen for satisfaction with water services and bill level. Weak correlations were seen for water services with supply interruptions and average water consumption. There is also a weak correlation between satisfaction with sewerage services and internal sewer flooding.”

CC Water found instead that “over the last five years, satisfaction with water pressure and trust have been the two most influential factors linked to overall satisfaction with water services”. It counselled: “As the industry takes positive steps to significantly reduce leakage, companies will need to ensure that water pressure management practices do not inconvenience customers.”

Meanwhile it was a different story for sewerage services with “attitudes” (evidence by Net Promoter Score and value for money) rather than aspects of sewerage service, being the most active drivers of satisfaction. CC Water said this was understandable as sewerage services are much less visible than water services.

The watchdog advised companies to look wider than service levels to increase the satisfaction of their customers, and to pay attention to the role of communications. It cautioned, though, that “in an extreme case, the misalignment between service delivery and overall satisfaction could lead to companies with strong brand management scoring well on customer perceptions, while services are deteriorating or performance is comparatively poor.”

It called on Ofwat therefore to incentivise companies to improve both satisfaction and service performance, and said it would work with Ofwat during the pilot phase of C-MeX “to make sure that the final design encourages the right behaviours from the industry and delivers better outcomes for customers”.