Making difficult investment decisions accessible to customers

Listening to customers, inviting feedback on services and exploring their views on where and how money should be invested is crucial to establishing a sustainable approach to future water supplies. In advance of submitting its latest Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP), South Staffs Water (incorporating Cambridge Water) commissioned Community Research to carry out a study with household, business and future customers to help them to understand customers’ priorities and to invite them to share their views on a variety of investment options. The information has been used to develop the companies’ draft WRMPs and to contribute to their Business Plans.

Using customer feedback to inform policy decisions

South Staffs Water supplies drinking water to 1.6 million people in the South Staffordshire and Cambridge regions (following its acquisition of Cambridge Water in 2011). As part of an ambitious project to understand key customer priorities, as well as those of other stakeholders, South Staffs have planned a series of engagement activities that are scheduled to run to the middle of 2018.

Explaining challenges; identifying areas of priority

A total of 32 South Staffs Water household, small business and future customers were invited to an all-day workshop in Walsall. An identical exercise was run in Cambridge with a similar mix of Cambridge Water’s customers. This was an opportunity for customers to learn more about their water company’s responsibilities and about the growing challenges of meeting the demand for water. Feedback was sought on the areas customers deemed to be of the highest priority for them.

Two weeks later the same customers were invited back to further half-day events. During these second sessions, they worked together to develop their suggestions for the companies’ future investment programmes to manage water resources over the coming years. Activities were designed to be fun, as well as educational and informative. Options for future investment were outlined using ‘Top Trumps’ style information cards. Customers worked in groups to develop their own ’investment programmes’ to meet budgetary and water delivery targets. Whilst the exercise was necessarily much simplified, it was based on the actual decisions that South Staffs Water and Cambridge Water will have to make in their plans.

Communicating well and leading by example

The first session focused on the challenges of maintaining a secure water supply now and in the years to come. The second session looked specifically at ways in which money could be most effectively allocated. Customers felt more should be done to make people aware of some of the key issues affecting water supply now and in the future. It was also clear that customers want their water company to lead by example, ensuring that leaks are fixed before asking householders to reduce their usage.

All feedback was included in a final report and will be used by South Staffs to develop priorities within their WRMP and their Business Plan.

You can watch a short film about this research here.

‘Community Research helped us to engage with a representative selection of our customers as part of our on-going focus to listen and incorporate their feedback into the development of our future plans. The project they designed was fun and interactive for customers and their feedback extremely valuable for us. It’s important that customers understand not only the scale of the task that lies ahead of us to ensure we can always meet customer demand for clean, high quality water, but are reassured that their views are valued and will, in fact, influence what we do.’ Nick Hollaway, Customer Research & Insight Manager, South Staffordshire Water

Alan Whitlock