Utility Week

Utility Week 13th October 2017

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

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26 | 13TH - 19TH OCTOBER 2017 | UTILITY WEEK Customers Analysis A strongly worded letter is a power- ful tool for disgruntled customers, especially when they want to inform a company that it has failed to live up to expectations. It's a fact that water companies will be acutely aware of in the wake of the recent report by the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) on complaints in the sector. The report warned that aer significant reductions in previous years, the improving trend for written complaints and unwanted contacts (calls unwanted from the custom- er's perspective) has "stalled" in the water industry since 2014/15. On the plus side, companies in England and Wales received fewer than 100,000 writ- ten complaints in 2016/17, for the first time in more than 20 years. However CCWater insists that the proliferation of complaints chan- nels, including web chat tools and social media platforms as well as more established channels like telephone and email, mean that the quality of complaints handling – not to mention problems around "unwanted contacts" from utilities firms – is under pres- sure more than ever before. With the prospect of being named and shamed on CCWater's complaints league table, water companies need to get better at reducing the causes of complaints and resolving customer issues. CCWater's 11th complaints report, released on 20 September, showed an increase of more than 40,000 in "unwanted contacts" to 2.14 million, which offset the 20-year low for written complaint submis- sions in 2016/17. The consumer champion is now pressing companies to "get customer service right first time", while CCWater chief executive Tony Smith adds: "We'll be chal- lenging all of the industry to deliver an even better service, but particularly the poorest performers." Of the laggards, CCWater's report showed that Cambridge Water's performance gen- erates the most cause for concern, with a drastic rise of nearly 250 per cent in written complaints. The company is now required to report to CCWater by the end of October to explain what it is doing to improve service. A spokesperson for CCWater tells Utility Week: "We will be keeping up pressure on the industry. We don't want to see a reversal of the improving trend. There is no room for complacency. "We will name and shame poor perform- ers but we also want to praise companies when they do well. Ultimately, we want the industry to get it right first time." As with previous years, the report pre- dominantly centres on written complaints, because they provide detailed information and a comparable way of assessing the per- formance of each company. Yet, acknowledging customers are increasingly contacting companies by other means, CCWater also looked at unwanted contacts to determine a company's per- formance. Future reports will look at com- plaints through all channels, including social media. So, even today's strong per- forming companies will need to make sure they are on top of their game in every area going forward. Overall, written complaints received between April 2016 and March 2017 fell by 11 per cent compared with 2015/16. Water com- panies received 95,274 written complaints, down from 106,839, with 12 of the 21 compa- nies reporting a fall. Dee Valley (-35.4 per cent), South East (-30.3 per cent), South West (-29.3 per cent) and Anglian (-25.3 per cent) all made notice- able improvements. Southern Water, Bourne- mouth, Affinity and Welsh Water, which have been required to submit quarterly reports to CCWater aer showing significant increases in 2015/16, also reported fewer complaints. Despite seeing the largest reduction (-44.5 per cent) in written complaints, Southern remained the worst performer across the board and must continue to provide regular reports, along with Affinity and Welsh Water. Meanwhile, Bournemouth is no longer on the "watch list" aer seeing a fall in written complaints (-32.5 per cent) and unwanted contacts (-25.7 per cent). Bucking the downward trend of the sec- tor, nine companies reported an increase in customers writing to express dissatisfac- tion, including Bristol (+67.9 per cent) and Portsmouth (+53.8 per cent), which saw Water company complaints CCWater's annual complaints report shows written complaints at a 20-year low, but celebrations are muted because 'unwanted contacts' show a worrying increase. Katey Pigden reports. UNWANTED CONTACTS PER 10,000 CONNECTIONS IN 2016/17, AND CHANGE FROM 2015/16 Southern Yorkshire Thames Dwr Cymru South West Northumbrian Wessex Severn Trent United Utilities Anglian Affinity Water SES Water Dee Valley Bristol Essex & Suffolk Cambridge South East Hartlepool Bournemouth Portsmouth South Staffs Water and sewerage companies Water-only companies 0 200 400 600 800 1,000 1,200 -10.1% -5.0% -25.7% -3.0% -18.6% -9.4% -3.9% -41.6% -17.1% -6.2% -6.2% -11.6% -7.1% -3.8% +58.8% +2.5% +13.4% +10.0% +4.2% +51.6% +37.2% Average 721

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