PN 19/20: Learn more from complaints to improve services for customers, water companies are urged

Water companies should do more to stamp out the root causes of customers’ frustration and improve their overall service.

A joint report published today by the Consumer Council for Water (CCW) and Ofwat shows the industry is not making the most of opportunities to learn from its mistakes and the complaints data it has at its disposal.

CCW and Ofwat are working together to improve how customers are treated by their water companies and ensure their best interests are at the heart of the service they receive. Earlier this year, CCW and Ofwat issued a ‘request for information’ and the report paints a picture of how complaints are being dealt with across England and Wales.

It shows that most written complaints (over 50%) are about billing and charges, while a fifth (21%) are about the quality of the water service consumers are supplied with, for example loss of water pressure or discolouration. Most companies resolve the majority of their complaints within two weeks however there is a disappointing lack of insight into how satisfied customers are, both with the outcome of their complaint and with the quality of the complaints service.

Whilst elements of good practice are identified in the report, there are a number of areas where water companies can improve. In particular, they should make much better use of complaints data in order to improve their overall service.

Understanding the industry-wide experiences of customers in vulnerable circumstances was also made difficult by inconsistencies in company reporting, causing Ofwat and CCW particular concern.

CCW and Ofwat have published five recommendations for the industry to build more effective complaints practices. These are to:

  • raise their ambition on response times on written complaints
  • improve their understanding of complainant satisfaction
  • share good practice
  • make better use of data
  • improve their understanding of the experiences of people raising complaints who are in vulnerable circumstances

It is important that companies review the findings of this report carefully, and consider how best to implement any necessary changes in their business. We expect each company to write to us by 31 March 2021, setting out their action plan for implementing each of the recommendations.

Rachel Fletcher, Chief Executive of Ofwat, said

“We expect water companies to have customers at the heart of their business.   Some companies do this well, but too often the customers’ experience and what they need is overlooked. Outstanding service providers use every complaint to put things right, to understand what frustrates their customers and improve their service.  But on the whole, water companies are missing this opportunity.

It is particularly worrying that companies are not doing more to gain insight into the experiences of people in vulnerable situations and to improve how they are treated, including when things go wrong.  We are working with CCW to push companies to up their game during these difficult times.”

Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, said:

“Every single complaint should be seen as an opportunity not just to put things right in that moment but to ensure that a customer receives a better service and the support they need moving forward.

“Sharing best practice can help to unlock the potential for significant improvements in complaint handling and customer service which is why we hope companies will seize every opportunity to take part in our industry workshops.”

Today’s full report and recommendations is available on our website.