The aim of the Intelligent Water Networks (IWN) customer needs and values research project was to provide insight into the needs and values of customers in relation to water services.
Accenture Pty.Ltd. was engaged to undertake the customer research, and the project objectives were to:
- Determine the values and needs of customers in regards to water services
- Determine the direct and indirect value and impacts that IWN may have on customers
- Develop value propositions of IWN on customer groups
- Identify opportunities for improvement in IWN product/service design
- Identify potential barriers to adoption of IWN
The research demonstrated that customers have different needs and values – in other words, there is no ‘average’ customer. Key insights and outcomes from the research are summarised below. It should be noted that some of the findings are varied, highlighting the many differences between customers.
Trust – There are products and services that could be offered as part of an intelligent water network that are outside the realm of what customers consider the “territory” of their provider. The risk is that in becoming more responsive to customer needs, the provider endangers the trust that has been built up in it over the years. Customers may want innovation, but is their utility the organisation they expect it to come from? Change to services must be managed in the context of a market cherishing conservative values.
Control – Water customers don’t always act in a fiscally rational manner. Offering control is likely to be as (or more) attractive than offering cost savings. It is important that it is explained to customers how new products and initiatives will provide them with visibility of their water usage, and help them control their use of water, not necessarily just control their savings.
Change – Customers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and demanding. Water is arguably just another home service (although an essential one). As other home services offer customers more choice and control, water may be at risk of being unfavourably compared. Utilities need to keep abreast of these changes or risk being left behind and reducing their established goodwill.
The needs of water customers rest on three pillars: Safety, Reliability and Affordability – It is unlikely to be possible to improve the reliability and safety of Victorian water in the eyes of the customer. However, water corporations must act proactively to ensure water remains ‘affordable’ or risk having their good relationship with their customer base collapse.
Metropolitan vs Regional customers – The quantitative research did not demonstrate significant variation between the needs and values of metropolitan and non-metropolitan water users. It is critical that the messaging going to rural and regional markets specifically addresses the issues and opportunities associated with those markets.
Vulnerable customers – Social equity needs to be a baseline consideration for every new product or initiative – not an add-on or product variant.
Customers’ knowledge of water industry structure – Some customers don’t know that their water corporation is government controlled. This is important as it has been shown that government oversight increases customer trust in the utilities sector. There may be an advantage to leveraging the links between water corporations and the state government in order to enhance the level of trust associated with the introduction of new products and services.
Communicating with customers – Victorian water users have come to rely on guidance provided by their water corporation. There has been less communication from water corporations recently, but customers have an expectation that as circumstances change over time, their water corporation will continue to provide guidance with regard to domestic water consumption. The goodwill that has been created over recent years is currently at risk. The “platform” from which utilities communicate needs to be re-addressed and reinvigorated, and the communication must resume.
Many customers want to be recognised for “doing the right thing” – In the current environment, striving to reduce water use is a community norm, albeit one that does not necessarily result in monetary savings for the individual customer. Many customers would keenly welcome any form of recognition they might receive for ‘doing the right thing’. A scheme of recognition needs to be built into new products and services that promote changes in water usage behaviours.
Water is a low interaction product – A common theme in the present research is that water is a low interaction product. Customers frequently stated that they did not think much about water and were generally satisfied with their current water provider.