October 24, 2019

Maintaining Customer Satisfaction for Water Customers: Communication is Key

What do customers want from their utility? A recent JD Power study supports what we’ve been seeing in other research—customers want to hear from you more often. In fact, a Chartwell survey found that customers who received more communications were more satisfied than customers who didn’t.1 Great, you can start filling your customers’ mailboxes and they will love you.


Current communications efforts are falling short

Not so fast! Today’s customer expects more than a few extra leaflets in their mailbox. Relying on one or two ways to reach out to customers isn’t cutting it anymore. Point in case, just 28% of water utility customers remember receiving communications from their utility.2 The unfortunate reality is that much of your current communication efforts aren’t that memorable or effective. The secret to having communication that sticks is proactive messaging in your customer’s channel of choice. Meaning, you make a concerted effort to interact with your customers using phone, email, SMS text message, and social media posts. You improve customer interactions and satisfaction by offering multiple communication channels so your customers can view and pay a bill, receive outage alerts, payment reminders, and usage information whether they’re at home or on the road, day or night.


It works!

  • When customers recall receiving a proactive communication from their utility, customer satisfaction scores are 84 points higher.3
  • Enabling notifications that allow proactive messaging improves customer satisfaction, with bill payment reminders increasing customer satisfaction by 91 points, outage information by 96 points, and abnormal usage alerts by 127 points.4


Get your message out—even if it isn’t good news

According to a Deloitte report, most of the underground water pipelines in the U.S. will need to be replaced in the next two decades. Maintaining customer satisfaction during lengthy and expensive construction projects is tough enough. When you add in the fact that most people take the safety of their water for granted, does it even make sense to try? The short answer is yes. JD Power reports that the more you inform customers about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, the less negative impact it has on customer satisfaction—even through services disruptions and rate hikes! When you are up front about inconvenient service disruptions and educate your customers on the importance of the work in maintaining a dependable and safe water supply, you gain the reputation as a utility that does a good job at maintaining infrastructure which increases customer satisfaction by 248 points (on a 1,000 point scale).5 Through this frank communication, you create a “we’re in this together” mentality, thereby creating closer bonds with your customers. The very customers you’re inconveniencing may just become unlikely allies as you dig your way through these projects.


Give your customers what they want

Due to government regulations around consumer protection, it’s commonplace for water utilities to wait for their customers to opt in to alerts. This is despite the fact that restrictions on auto-enrollment for outage alerts were loosened in 2016 in cases where a utility already has a customer’s contact information. Perhaps it’s time to rethink this complacent approach given 90% of customers are open to outage alert auto-enrollment—especially if the alerts are sent in their channel of choice.6 The current regulatory environment and a responsive public leaves the door open for water utilities to take a more active approach to communicating outages to their customers. It isn’t just outage information that they seek, 76% of customers feel that it’s important for their utility to alert them of high bills and 79% want their utility to send tips on saving money.7


Proactively connect

Implementing an alerts and preference management tool, like Notifi®, will help you manage customer communications preferences and personalize the way you interact with customers. This innovative technology makes it easier to reach your customers in their channels of choice which increases customer experience, builds trust, and contributes to higher customer satisfaction. Which will come in handy when you tell them you’re shutting their water off on laundry day.




1 Chartwell. 2018 Residential Consumer Survey.

2 Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, J.D. Power, May 2019. https://www.jdpower.com/business/press-releases/2019-water-utility-residential-customer-satisfaction-study

3 Ibid.

4 J.D. Power 2017 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.

5 Heath, Andrew, Can Water Utilities Fix Aging Infrastructure Without Destroying Customer Satisfaction?, Water Finance & Management, August 26, 2019.

6 Chartwell’s 2018 Residential Customer Survey.

7 Ibid.