Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Remains Steady as Usage Surges in Pandemic, J.D. Power Finds
Customers in Texas Lose Trust in Water Utilities following February Storm Response
A combination of major regional service interruptions, significantly increased water consumption, higher utility bills and a lack of effective communication during the pandemic have resulted in no change year over year in customer satisfaction with residential water utilities, according to the J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study,SM released today. Overall customer satisfaction remains at 737 (on a 1,000-point scale) as usage has increased about 6% nationwide, and this year marks the first time that satisfaction has not improved since the study began in 2016.
“Between the massive weather event in Texas and the overall heightened sense of anxiety among consumers who have been spending more time at home and consuming more water, the past year has put local water utilities to the test,” said Andrew Heath, senior director of utilities intelligence at J.D. Power. “Despite recent efforts to improve communications and ramp up digital customer service channels, water utilities still have a long way to go when it comes to delivering valuable, proactive communications to help their customers through challenging situations. For example, the widespread service interruptions in Texas really put a spotlight on just how vulnerable utilities can be to adverse weather events.”
Following are key findings of the 2021 study:
- Customer satisfaction remains static or declines as usage spikes: Overall customer satisfaction with residential water utilities remains the same nationwide in 2021, following five consecutive years of steady improvement. Specific areas showing declines in customer satisfaction are billing and payment and customer service. Residential water usage has increased about 6% year over year.
- Texas storm reveals cautionary tale: Three-fourths (75%) of residential water utility customers in Texas experienced some type of water service interruption and 44% were subject to a boil advisory following the severe winter storm in February 2021. Accordingly, quality and reliability satisfaction scores throughout Texas fell 20 points during the fourth wave of the study (conducted in March 2021). Overall customer satisfaction scores average 116 points lower among customers who experienced boil advisories.
- Need to communicate results of annual water quality report: Water utilities are required to test the tap water and publish an annual Consumer Confidence Report to reassure their customers that the water is safe to drink. Only 41% of customers recall seeing or receiving such a report but, among customers who do recall seeing or receiving a report, satisfaction scores increase 83 points, on average.
The study measures customer satisfaction with water utilities in eight geographic regions. Highest-ranking utilities and scores, by region, are as follows:
- Midwest Large: Illinois American Water (759) (for a second consecutive year)
- Midwest Midsize: City of Minneapolis (759) (for a second consecutive year)
- Northeast Large: New Jersey American Water (760)
- Northeast Midsize: Monroe County Water Authority (756) (for a second consecutive year)
- South Large: Fairfax Water (780)
- South Midsize: OUC (800)
- West Large: Seattle Public Utilities (767) (for a second consecutive year)
- West Midsize: Aurora Water (767)
The U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, now in its sixth year, measures satisfaction among residential customers of 90 water utilities that deliver water to at least 400,000 customers and is reported in four geographic regions and two size categories: Midwest Large, Midwest Midsize, Northeast Large, Northeast Midsize, South Large, South Midsize, West Large and West Midsize. Overall satisfaction is measured by examining 33 attributes in six factors (listed in order of importance): quality and reliability; price; conservation; billing and payment; communications; and customer service. The survey was conducted in four waves from June 2020 through March 2021.
For more information about the U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, visit https://www.jdpower.com/business/utilities/water-utility-residential-customer-satisfaction-study.
About J.D. Power
J.D. Power is a global leader in consumer insights, advisory services and data and analytics. A pioneer in the use of big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic modeling capabilities to understand consumer behavior, J.D. Power has been delivering incisive industry intelligence on customer interactions with brands and products for more than 50 years. The world's leading businesses across major industries rely on J.D. Power to guide their customer-facing strategies.
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