Utility Week

UTILITY Week 27th January 2017

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28 | 27TH JANUARY - 2ND FEBRUARY 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Customers Event Water Customer Conference Birmingham, 18 January 2017 Competition will put the customer first With the non-domestic water market opening in April, there was much for water companies to discuss at Utility Week's customer water conference, says Lois Vallely. M arket opening is coming and it is essential that all market participants are ready for it. The opening of the business retail market in April was, there- fore, front of mind at Utility Week's Water Customer Conference in Birmingham on 18 January. An eager anticipation ahead of market opening gripped the delegates at the confer- ence, but the awareness of the need to get things right first time come April was never far away. Business Stream chief executive Johanna Dow insisted that the readiness of all partici- pants in the non-domestic water market was "very important". "It won't be enough to say 10 out of 12 are showing a really high state of readiness," she said. "What about the other two? If we're switching a multi-site customer who has got sites in every region across the UK, we need to make sure that everybody is ready. That readiness isn't just about retailers, it's got to be about wholesalers as well." Are wholesalers ready for the change? Do they know what's coming? It is imperative that they "increase their game", she said. Dow also spoke about lessons that could be learnt from Scotland – from both what had gone well and what had gone badly. What went well, was that customer engagement happened early, and there was complete transparency between market par- ticipants about their level of readiness. Dow did point out that this was easier in the Scot- tish market, because it only has one incum- bent wholesaler and a handful of retailers. She said things that had not gone so well, and from which lessons could be learnt, were ensuring market data was of a high quality, and always putting the customer first. Market Operator Services Limited (MOSL) chief executive Ben Jeffs said the success of the new market relies on more than just tech- nical delivery. All market participants must work together to ensure the it functions effi- ciently, effectively and reliably, and that cus- tomers are satisfied with their experience. The expectations – of domestic as well as non-domestic customers – will be high in the competitive market, and will only increase as time goes on. Water companies must be ready for this, and make sure they provide the highest possible levels of service. Ian McGuffog, director of strategy and planning at Ofwat, said the business retail market has been a long time coming, and that awareness of the market should increase as we approach the go-live date. He also flagged the potential to build on the business market, taking forward into the domestic market the lessons learnt – if and when it opens. Speakers emphasised that the change is not all about lower bills; there will also be benefits in terms of promoting efficiency and innovation, and improved customer service. And these improvements in customer service will transfer to the domestic market too as service becomes front of mind for companies. The focus of the conference was not entirely on the opening of the business mar- ket. Bristol Water's customer services and IT director, Ben Newby, spoke about the impor- tance of "keeping up with the changing needs of customers". He said sometimes, when you consume water services, you can feel "behind the curve" compared with other sectors – such as telecoms. "We live in an age of retail revo- lution," he said. "And in the water industry we're doing everything that we can to keep up with this." Views from the top table: Ben Newby, customer services and IT director, Bristol Water "We live in an age of retail revolution, and in the water industry we're doing every- thing that we can to keep up with this. But sometimes, when you consume our services, you can feel behind the curve compared with other sectors."

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