Utility Week

Utility Week 13th October 2017

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Page 26 of 31

UTILITY WEEK | 13TH - 19TH OCTOBER 2017 | 27 Customers significant setbacks against their previous improving trends. For unwanted contacts, five companies saw double digit increases, with Southern (+53.8 per cent), SES Water (+51.6 per cent) and Cambridge (+37.2 per cent) showing sub- stantial rises. Responding to the report's findings, Michael Roberts, Water UK's chief executive, said industry improvements have been mak- ing a difference, with a significant fall in the number of issues being dealt with over the phone since 2010. He adds: "As an industry we want to keep getting better, and make sure the downward trend in complaints and the increase in customer satisfaction continues." Roberts says companies are investing bil- lions of pounds in improving their customer service levels. But CCWater argues that there is a major opportunity for the water industry to improve its handling of complaints about billing and charges if it wants to see a real reduction in complaint levels. Of the 95,000 written complaints received from household and non-household custom- ers, more than 54,000 related to billing and charges. The category has always accounted for over half of all written complaints to companies, and for more than 50 per cent of the complaints handled by CCWater. A near 10,000 fall in the number of billing and charges complaints accounted for the vast majority of the overall reduction in written complaints for the period. The watchdog says it will work with com- panies to find the root cause of complaints. It says: "We will continue to ask poor perform- ing companies to provide regular reports until we are satisfied. secure a favourable position in the next complaints report. Moving forward CCWater's collaborative approach to raising the performance of poor performers is lauda- ble, but the challenge for laggards under the current regime for water sector complaints tracking is about to step up a gear. For next year, CCWater's scrutiny of com- plaints will extend to social media channels and review the number of communications options each company provides, as a meas- ure of their approachability. The change marks a step towards the new "C-MEX" cus- tomer satisfaction incentive which Ofwat has proposed for PR19, a mechanism which is designed to stretch companies, but also promises bigger rewards for top achievers. With both the size of the prize and the size of the challenge for good complaints handling on the up, there has never been a better time for companies to raise their game. Case studies, written complaints Best performer – Dee Valley Dee Valley replaced Portsmouth as the best performing com- pany aer it reduced written complaints for the sixth successive year, with a decrease of 35 per cent. A spokesperson for Severn Trent, which acquired Dee Valley earlier this year, said: "While the figures in the report are heart- ening, there's always more that we can, and will, do to improve things. "We've made very real progress in areas such as sewer flood- ing, which can be one of the most terrible things anyone can experience. We're committed to doing the best job we can for customers, and to finding ways to make things even better." Most improved – Bournemouth Water Bournemouth Water has returned to its usual position of being one of the better performing companies aer reducing its com- plaints through improvements to its case management system. A spokesperson, said: "We're pleased that the number of written complaints we receive has fallen by one-third since last year and we have reduced the number of 'unwanted contacts' by 26 per cent. Our customer satisfaction rating is 95 per cent. "When we receive a complaint, we work very hard to resolve it as quickly as possible and we keep customers fully informed at all stages while we investigate. We analyse all complaints and identify areas where we can improve further." Worst performer – Southern Water Southern Water has the highest number of written complaints per 10,000 connected properties, despite seeing a drop of 45 per cent. Southern's increase of 77,082 (+54 per cent) in unwanted contacts was a result of a review of the company's internal recording process. Simon Oates, chief customer officer, said: "Although we are still down the foot of the table I am really proud of our written complaints reduction. "We know we have more to do but we are fully focused on delivering improvements to move up the table. "We have improved our digital communication channels and have made changes to our billing and debt prevention processes." Most deteriorated – Cambridge Water Cambridge Water was labelled a "cause for concern" by CCWater aer it saw a 249 per cent increase in written complaints, while unwanted contacts also rose. The main cause of the increase was customer disquiet about its billing and collections activity when it transferred its cus- tomer service activities to parent company South Staffs. Phil Newland, managing director, said: "We're extremely dis- appointed with the level of complaints received during 2016/17 because for many years we have been one of the industry's top performing companies. "We received 488 complaints last year compared to our usual average of around 190 per year. He said the company has identified areas of improvement and is working with CCWater, sharing regular updates with them. It expects to see a full recovery by next year. -35% -33% -45% +249%

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