Customer research with Blue Marble for our Vulnerability Strategy

Ofwat requires all water companies to publish their vulnerability strategy by June 2024. We are in a good position in that we already have a strategy for customers who need extra help, called ‘Every Customer Matters’. This strategy has been developed over many years and is updated annually.

Ofwat specifies that companies must develop their vulnerability strategies with the involvement of customers. As a response to this, we commissioned independent research with Blue Marble to provide direct customer feedback.

The objective of this research was to evaluate our strategy through the eyes of customers whom it is designed to support.

Blue Marble convened a sample of 36 customers to participate in an in-depth interview that focused on key areas of the vulnerability strategy.

Around half of the participants were already on one of our affordability schemes or receiving additional support by being on the Priority Services Register. This group could tell us if our services were meeting their needs. The other half of the sample were not currently receiving support - but Blue Marble was able to establish through their recruitment processes that they would be eligible to do so.

We were particularly interested to hear the views of these customers and learn more about how we could reach them.

Learnings from this research

From the Blue MArble research, we learned the following:

Good experience with the service providers

Participants feel that good experiences with their service providers are underpinned by the following aspects:

Staff interactions

Positive interactions with specific customer service staff are a key driver of overall customer experience.

Touchpoints & channels

Participants praise service providers who enable customers to contact them through a range of touchpoints and channels.

Outputs & resolution

All of the positive experiences that participants had with their service providers had good resolutions.

Further improvement

Participants feel that their service providers could provide even more for them in the following ways:

Proactive support

Many participants feel nervous, scared, or embarrassed to reach out to service providers and ask for help, so want us to proactively reach out to them to offer support.

Streamlined information sharing

Participants do not want to have to reconfirm their vulnerabilities and personal information each time they speak with a different staff member..

Additional communication channels

Many participants want to have even more ways to contact their service providers, including after-hours calling times, and options like video calling for neurodivergent customers.

Response to our four principles

Participants told us they like the strategy, which they found very comprehensive – and were impressed (and often surprised) by the range of support services available. They found the principles of ‘going the extra mile’ and ‘actively looking for signs of extra needs and requirements’ especially important.

Reassuringly, the participants who are already being supported by us felt we were delivering against these ideals with lots of praise for our staff.

Our four principles are:

  1. We always go the extra mile
  2. We are accessible for everyone
  3. We provide an inclusive service
  4. We actively look for signs of extra needs and requirements

Response to our 2030 commitments

Participants also applauded the 2030 commitments set out in the strategy – particularly our use of social tariffs to ensure ‘no one will be unable to afford their water bills.’

Be more ambitious

We also heard that customers want us to be even more ambitious with our plans to support customers in vulnerable circumstances – specifically that we could be bolder with some our targets e.g. reaching a higher number of customers eligible for a social tariff.

Increased communication

This research has also underlined the importance of engaging widely so that no one is missing out on help where it is needed. Participants told us we need more prominent communication of the support services available, reflecting their concern that they or others could be missing out through lack of awareness.

They suggested a communications approach that includes:

  • an easy to navigate summary of all support services with signposting to more detailed information where needed
  • better targeting of information, making it as easy as possible for the people most in need to get in touch or apply for help
  • and providing regular updates on services available so that no one is missing out because they are not aware of the support on offer.

To an extent, participants felt we do this already, but that we need to be deliver more consistent and concerted communications about our service to bolster awareness.

Actions following this research

As a result of the research, we have been able to make the following updates.

We have:

  • included extra information in our vulnerability strategy including information on bogus caller protection
  • amended our wording around support offered to parents of young children (from 12 months to 5 years)
  • stretched our commitment to raising awareness of both PSR and affordability even further and amended the wording of some of our commitments to make them clearer
  • introduced working with supermarkets and hospitals in our increased partner network initiative
  • amended our workstream ‘Improving the customer journey’ to ‘Improving the customer experience’
  • reviewed our Priority Services web pages and introduced a customer summary of our strategy on our website to further improve communication about the support we offer.

Future plans include:

  • taking on board feedback about more prominent, tailored, and frequent communication of our schemes
  • producing a booklet or leaflet with our stakeholder Vulnerability Advisory Panel for those wanting a general overview of the strategy.

Read the full research report.

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