By taking a collective responsibility, being more transparent and supportive, and considering themselves to be in a partnership with their customers, water providers can go a long way to ensuring that we’re all using our precious resource more responsibly.

Water companies have a legal obligation to promote efficient water use, and pressure on water resources means that they need to encourage changes in water consumption behaviour.

Beyond this, Ofwat has called for water companies to establish a healthier environment, better customer services and achieve net zero by 2030. The aim is also to save water supplies that are starting to be scarce after years of drought in the summer, make efforts to tackle the climate crisis and deliver a sustainable future or communities.

Here are three ways that could help water providers take strides towards reaching their goals.

Collective responsibility and transparency

We all have a part to play, yet when customers witness inaction from the water companies and governing bodies, they resent being told that they should be saving water and making changes.

A relationship between the provider, the user and the resource is needed to foster collective responsibility.

First, there must be transparency, so the customer can better understand the water resource issues and how the company is addressing the problem. Lack of clarity and general poor practice is consistently highlighted by the media, creating a poor image of providers that will inevitably rub off on customers. Leaks and damaged pipes also create resent, as the infrastructure is not being maintained nor respected, and there is a high awareness of sewage issues, resulting in amplified negativity towards water companies.

Therefore, communication from providers could stand to be more reassuring.

Responding to water customers’ shifting needs and expectations is a huge task, but inaction is not an option. Water companies have a singular opportunity to plot a course to navigate the resource transition with consumers at the core. As water consumer group CCW said in its Bridging the Gap: Awareness and Understanding of Water Issues, “There is an opportunity for the water industry to be more open and transparent with consumers on these issues so that they have a greater understanding of what their water company is doing to address them.”

That same paper found that 55% of UK adults see addressing climate change and protecting the environment as just an excuse that water suppliers are using to raise bills. So providers have a good deal of work to do to rebuild customer trust.

Be as supportive as possible

Water is often the first household bill to go unpaid when customers are suffering financially. The water industry already helps 900,000 customers to pay their bills and has the commitment to increase this to 1.5 million by 2025.

As the cost-of-living pressures continue, water companies must now act to support people who are struggling to pay. The companies have stepped up efforts to help customers who have lost their jobs or had their incomes cut during the coronavirus crisis, yet this must not be exclusive to the pandemic.

Most customers are unaware that companies have plans to help them if they’re struggling to pay. Flexible payment options are needed, especially for those with irregular incomes and zero-hours contracts. Tony Smith, Chief Executive of CCW, commented, “It’s really important that customers who are struggling in any way don’t wait to be asked and actively reach out for support, whether that’s help paying a bill or getting other practical assistance.”

A new generation of consumers is looking for options that provide transparency, flexibility and autonomy. Autonomy only comes with awareness and support – and lack of support is a major part of this issue, causing a rise in water poverty.

Not customer and provider, but partners

Disruption of resource services and supply is on the rise and immediate action is required to avoid future generations facing severe water scarcity and higher bills, as well as to meet environmental targets.

With more droughts resulting in increased demand and water shortages, consumer and provider relationships will transition from purely transactional to trusted partners. Water companies can engage consumers in the resource transition, support behaviour and water use shifts, and create community-level action and value. It needs to be a collective act and attitude shift, and transparency is needed to reduce the fear surrounding the issue.

A radical shift is needed, with water providers’ support in helping to provide the education, tools and motivation to encourage people to harvest their own rainwater. But attitudes are changing and there’s increased interest in doing so. And individuals and communities who adopt methods such as rain barrels and drought-tolerant landscaping are supporting natural ways to make their homes more sustainable, while at the same time relieving pressure on resources.

Ericsson ConsumerLab found that, “As fresh water may become scarcer in the 2030s, consumers anticipate smarter water services to conserve and reuse water. Almost half of urban early adopters say their household will use smart water catchers on roofs, balconies and windows that intelligently open when it is raining to catch and clean rainwater.”

We cannot talk about water scarcity in merely a generic, broad sense: companies need to look at the nuances in their customer base to get different people to change their behaviours dependent on individual factors. Much of this is reliant on the providers improving their communication with their customers.

Also important to benefit the community, our planet and individuals’ pockets is the smart water meter roll-out. It can be difficult for consumers to take action to reduce their usage when they have little idea what ‘normal usage’ should look like in the first place. Most people have no idea how much water they use every day – how does one conceptualise such a thing? Therefore, the smarter customers get, the more effective they can be at making a difference to how they use water – and how much.

Arqiva found that over a third (37%) of smart water meter users surveyed reported having reduced water consumption since their device was installed. If we can increase this number, it will make all the difference.

We’ve commissioned a series of reports – focusing on water and other industries – that will help you discover the challenges of the future customer in terms of how you can best connect, support and transform their experience to gain competitive advantage.


For more insights, read the full report:

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