Rebuilding trust: Water suppliers must demonstrate how they are using data to help customers

By Scott Logie, Chief Commercial Officer at Sagacity

Scott Logie, Chief Commercial Officer at Sagacity

Water suppliers have a battle on their hands to build customer trust. Research shows six in ten people do not trust their utility suppliers, and recent negative news stories will have done nothing to improve the situation.

To move customers away from an ‘us and them’ mentality, suppliers urgently need to regain trust and open lines of communication to bring customers back onside. One way to do this is by demonstrating they are acting in people’s best interests, using data to give accurate and personalised services and assistance.

You can’t put a price on trust

Trust and open communication are the cornerstones of a good relationship. However, research shows the majority of UK households think utilities suppliers are just out to make money, rather than to help them. Changing this perception is essential – particularly in light of Ofwat tightening the rules around how suppliers help people who are struggling. Providers need to persuade customers that if they ask for help, it won’t fall on deaf ears. If they fail to do this, it will be increasingly costly and difficult to comply with regulations, potentially resulting in regulatory fines.

Equally, if people don’t feel they can have a dialogue with their provider they will be less inclined to get in touch over billing issues, which can potentially lead to bad debt. If there is an issue, people will also be more likely to publicise their dissatisfaction – taking to social media or even the regulators to complain. This can be extremely damaging to water company’s reputation and brand image and could often been easily and quietly resolved in-house had there been a better existing relationship.

Ultimately, having a good relationship between customer and provider provides benefits everyone. But how can suppliers start to build that relationship?

Data provides the building blocks

To start rebuilding trust, suppliers need to demonstrate to customers how they’re helping on a practical level – and data provides the building blocks for this. Growing numbers of water suppliers use data in a variety of ways to improve the customer experience and provide accurate, personalised services and assistance. But they are often reluctant to talk about this great work they are doing.

By opening up about how data is helping to transform their service, water companies can not only communicate the benefits to their customers and the successes they’ve had, but can also build trust through greater transparency. This could encourage more data sharing from customers in the future, while also helping to educate consumers on things like the benefits of water meters.

Here are three examples that will resonate and rebuild trust:

1) Using water meters for accurate monthly bills. The ongoing roll out of water meters is ushering in a revolution: people will only pay for what they use each month, rather than an estimated bill. Not many people will be aware of this shift, meaning there’s a great chance for suppliers to explain the benefits to customers during the current roll-out period.

When contacting a household to arrange installation, they can let them know about the positive impact it could have for them. They can calculate how much they could cut consumption by switching from baths to showers – and explaining that this would translate to a lower bill next month. By spelling out the impact in this way, suppliers can use the water meter roll-out to boost customer trust.

2) Providing tailored advice on cutting consumption. To date, water suppliers have helped cut consumption by sharing ‘best practice’ advice and fitting devices to limit water flow, but growing numbers are shifting to a data-driven approach. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate how suppliers are using data to provide personalised advice to individual households. There are already some great examples of this in action, such as Thames Water’s Water Saving Calculator, which gives tailored advice based on a combination of existing records and additional inputs from the customer.

The more information customers voluntarily share, the more suppliers can help – whether that’s telling people who regularly run half-empty dishwashers how much water they are wasting, or advising how to re-use household water during a hosepipe ban. This really shows suppliers are on the same side as customers and want to help them.

3) Identifying signs of financial stress in customer data and proactively offering support. ONS says around a quarter of UK adults are currently experiencing some form of financial vulnerability. Not all of these people will be coming forward to ask for help. Those who are experiencing difficulties for the first time in their lives may not know their supplier can assist, or may not feel confident discussing their financial troubles.

At this time, suppliers can build trust by demonstrating they are helping everybody who is struggling, not leaving some people suffering in silence. Suppliers are increasingly using data-driven intelligence to stop these people falling through the cracks. They can look for signs of financial stress both in their own data, such as somebody suddenly missing a payment, and third-party sources like unpaid council tax bills. If customers become aware suppliers are doing this, whether through direct experience or through communications and marketing, trust in the supplier will increase. In turn, this should make more customers feel confident sharing information and asking for help if they have a problem.

Rebuilding trust

The growing influence of data on the industry gives suppliers an increasing number of routes to rebuild trust with customers. Trust won’t be won back overnight, but the number of use cases for customer data continues to grow – suppliers just need to get going, proving they are acting in customers’ best interests. The good news is that when people realise their supplier is using data to help them, they will be much more likely to start sharing more. They just need to get going, and they’ll soon start winning the battle for trust.



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