New report urges water companies to learn more from complaints to improve their services for customers

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The water industry is not making the most of opportunities to learn from its complaints data, a new report by Ofwat and Consumer Council for Water (CCW) suggests.

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.

The report 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, the report highlights ‘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.

Rachel Fletcher, Chief Executive of Ofwat, commented the report: “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.”

While elements of good practice are identified in the report, there are a number of areas where water companies can improve.

Ofwat and CCW were particularly concerned that the understanding the industry-wide experiences of customers in vulnerable circumstances was made difficult by inconsistencies in company reporting.

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

  • 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

CCW and Ofwat have announced that they expect each company to write to them by 31 March 2021, setting out their action plan for implementing each of the recommendations.

Emma Clancy, Chief Executive of CCW, added: “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.”

The full report is available to read on the Ofwat website.