Customer insights: when things go wrong


Author: Gemma Rosenblatt, Head of Customer Insight, Ofwat

Please note that the research agency Blue Marble are currently conducting research with residents of the Marleigh Estate as part of this project.


Often the time when customers need the most support from their water company is when things go wrong. Ofwat and CCW want to understand what support works well, and the kind of problems people are having, so that we know where companies should focus to improve their performance.

We are launching a programme of joint research, conducted by research agency Blue Marble. This will allow us to hear from customers about their experiences at home when something goes wrong with the water, or when there’s a problem with sewage, and to get their thoughts on what worked well (including the support or communications that helped them to deal with the incident) and what they think could be improved.

The type of incidents we will review

We want to understand the experience of customers for a wide range of incidents. This includes:

  • Incidents of varying sizes and severity – covering those that affect thousands of people to those that affect a smaller number of households.
  • Incidents that have different causes – from water supply issues such as households having no water from their taps, discoloured water, or low water pressure to incidents relating to wastewater such as sewage flooding in homes or gardens.
  • Incidents that last for different lengths of time. For example, for a day or two to those that go on for a week or longer.
  • Incidents in different parts of the country and across a range of companies – this includes the split between urban and rural areas and the different experiences customers may face based on their location.

What we are likely to consider in the research

When we speak with customers, we will want to understand the incident from their perspective. This includes a timeline of events, people’s circumstances when the incident occurred, and their particular needs.

We will also explore how effective customers found their company’s response to the incident. We will find out what information people received from their company, when they received it and the quality of information provided. Similarly, we will ask about the support provided by companies during and after an incident, whether they felt this was sufficient and what else may have been needed.

We may also speak to other members of the community who may want to share thoughts on the incident and how it was managed – including local community and political representatives.

Sharing what we find

As we progress, we will publish the findings from the incidents we have explored. We want to make sure that any learnings are available quickly, including any good practice that can be shared.

Ofwat and CCW will use findings from this research to inform our wider work. This includes the introduction of a new customer focused licence condition which Ofwat is currently consulting on and work CCW is doing looking at how customers are supported during and after incidents.


If you have any questions about our research or would like to share information about an incident, you can email [email protected]

This research is looking at how companies respond to incidents rather than responding to specific complaints. If you would like to make a complaint about a company, you can find out more about how to do this here – Making a complaint – Ofwat.

More information on Ofwat’s wider customer research programme can be found here: Our Customer Research – Ofwat. This includes recent research on cost of living, and joint research with CCW on a new customer focused licence condition, and people’s experiences of sewer flooding in homes or gardens.