J.D. Power points out perception problems for water utilities... and how to successfully address them.

As reported by WaterWorld Magazine last week, J.D. Power released its 2017 Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study reporting the responses from residential customers of 87 water utilities each delivering water to a population of at least 400,000 people in four geographic regions.  Overall satisfaction was measured by examining 33 attributes within six factors (listed in order of importance): delivery; price; conservation; billing and payment; communications; and customer service. Satisfaction was calculated on a 1,000-point scale.


The main, headline-grabbing results are in the area of water quality where close to one-third (32%) of water utility customers reported some type of what the survey described as water quality issues:  low water pressure, bad taste, smelly water, discoloration and hardness.  Customers who experienced water quality problems had significantly lower delivery satisfaction scores than those who experienced no problems. Bad taste and scaling/water hardness were associated with a 129-index point decline in delivery satisfaction scores, while bad smell was associated with a 135-point decline and discoloration was associated with a 115-point decline.


While the negative results certainly are causes for alarm when it comes to public perception, the J.D. Power survey also highlighted the path to improving customer sentiment:  Consistent customer and media communications.  Water utilities that regularly use ratepayer and media outreach were found to build more satisfying customer relationships, scoring higher in every study metric.


Satisfaction scores were significantly higher when a customer recalled a communication in the last three months from their water utility than when they didn't (714 vs. 612, respectively, a 17% jump.)  The trend also held when customers recalled hearing about their water utility in the news media (677) versus those who did not (637), a 6.3% increase.


The positive impact from customer and media outreach was even higher the more frequently it was used.  Customers who recalled receiving six or more communications from their water utility had satisfaction scores that were 203 points higher than those who do not recall receiving any direct communications, a jump of almost 33%.


Finally, informing your confidence of your utility's conservation, environmental initiatives increased satisfaction.  When customers are aware of their utility's conservation programs, satisfaction scores leapt 27% from 561 to 711. Likewise, awareness of the utility's efforts to improve the environment led to scores of 785 vs. 634 among those who are unaware of such efforts or 24%.


We at WaterPIO couldn't agree more with the Senior Director of J.D. Power's Utility Practice Andrew Heath, "Understanding the voice of the customer - both in terms of what specific factors drive negative sentiment and which are more closely associated with positive performance - will be central to water utilities' ability to achieve the customer support necessary to support the improvements they need."


This is why we offer a variety of services to water operations, so they can establish or add to their efforts to communicate with their customers, the local media that cover them, and social media commenters in their service areas.  The costs are minimal; the impacts, as shown by J.D. Power, can be significant.