2017 saw the biggest transformation to the UK’s water market since privatisation in 1989. In April, we welcomed the opening of the non-domestic water market in England, allowing eligible non-household customers the opportunity to choose their water retailer for the first time. The aim of the new retail market was to drive competition and the result would be better customer service, and lower bills. This would lead companies to go the extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction and competitive advantage.
So, where are we a year on from the market opening? Who is competing and how has the bar been raised for customer service levels?
At the start of January 2018, 37 retailers were operating in the market1 and by February 2018 100,000 businesses had switched supplier since the market opened. This affirms what the market already knew in terms of the importance of service levels and the need for retailers to elevate their standards with the help and support of their wholesaler.
The recent change to the market structure has made it quite a challenge for water wholesalers to make sure they are providing timely, accurate service information to retailers for them to pass on to affected customers in an equally timely way. Not just notifying customers of a problem, but including information on the cause, duration and resolution along with updates as the event or incident evolves through to completion. The increasing number of retailers and the on-going switching of suppliers means the complexity surrounding the dissemination of information is likely to grow. The need for a solution that can develop with the progressing market can only be fulfilled by innovation and advancing technology.
John Russell, Ofwat’s Senior Director of Strategy and Policy commented at the Utility Week Water Customer Conference in January 2018 that “In PR19, it will be innovation that separates the exceptional companies from the rest.” Companies such as Anglian Water have already embraced innovation and technology by ensuring they had a solution for communicating with retailers in place in time for the market opening. They worked closely with the digdat team to embed digdat’s Retailer Notification Service (RNS) into their systems and have been reaping the benefits over the last twelve months.
Wesley Thomas, Wholesale Market Systems and Performance Manager at Anglian Water commented “digdat RNS enables us to keep our retailers informed of planned and unplanned works and incidents that have the potential to affect their non-household customers. The solution provides notifications relevant to each retailer all in one place, and enables them to comment or feedback on specific events, and follow, or opt to receive relevant updates. This means they can pass the information on to their customers and the whole communication process is streamlined.
“Providing our new retailer customers with a great experience is important to us as a wholesaler and RNS has really helped us since the market opened in April 2017. RNS supports us in continually improving the service we offer.”
Bristol Water are the next company to integrate digdat RNS into their business. Simon Bennett, Head of Wholesale Services at Bristol Water explains how their collaboration with digdat is really helping them take their customer service to the next level: “We are delighted to be going live with digdat’s Retailer Notification Service in the next few weeks. Bristol Water have been working closely with digdat for a number of years, already using their “Plant Enquiries” and “In Your Area” solutions. We are always looking to improve our customer service and add value for retailers in this new market and RNS will greatly improve the daily communications between all parties.
“digdat RNS will enable us to provide those retailers working within our area with targeted notifications relating to our planned and unplanned works under parts D & E of the Wholesale Retail Code Operational Terms. The retailers will be able to customise what they receive and feedback or comment on specific events, making communications more effective, informative and efficient.”
The potential for further innovation and technology is infinite. There is no doubt both will play a key role in the future of the open market, both non-household, and household when it emerges. For retailers, the challenge is to be the best in the market and wholesalers need to embrace the challenge too, ensuring they strengthen and add value to the chain. Continual development and innovation are paramount and will continue to be so throughout the next decade.
Customer Service has never been so high profile, not just in the water industry, but across all industries. Those that champion innovation and technology, will surely be the leaders of the pack for customer satisfaction in the future.
1 MOSL CEO Quarterly Market Review Q3 2017/18