Communication is Key

June 11, 2020
Welcome to the June issue of WaterWorld magazine.

It’s no secret that water and wastewater utilities that communicate regularly with their customers experience a higher rate of customer satisfaction. But did you know that communication about water safety is just as important as educating customers about their water use?

That’s the message of J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, released in May. The annual survey revealed some interesting findings, chief among them the fact that 25 percent of residential water utility customers nationwide say they never drink their tap water. Overall customer satisfaction with the local water utility is 52 points lower (on a 1,000-point scale) among customers who never drink their tap water versus those who say they always drink their tap water.

“A combination of bad taste, bad smell, high mineral content and general fears about water safety are prompting a sizable portion of Americans — particularly in western and southern states — to avoid drinking their tap water,” Andrew Heath, senior director of utilities intelligence at J.D. Power, said during an interview. “Fixing these problems requires a significant focus on infrastructure, both to ensure water quality and to communicate with customers, showing them proof that infrastructure is well maintained and that the water is safe.”

Heath said utilities that are strategic in their communication efforts would yield the highest return in customer satisfaction levels over time, focusing on younger consumers in particular.

“It tends to be the younger generations that are more likely to be drinking bottled water, so what can we as an industry do to educate folks that tap water is great to drink, and they should be [doing so]?” he said. “The challenge really is just getting the message [that water is safe] out, and the utility’s own consumer confidence reports are one way to do that.”

As the world continues to manage the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Heath also pointed to findings that showed confusion on the part of the consumer when it comes to the impact of COVID-19 on their water supply, pointing to changing water use patterns as people have been told to work from home while many states have enacted stay at home orders.

“People at home are drinking more tap water and washing their hands more often, which is great,” he said. “Only three percent of people are not impacted in any way by the [current environment], so this affects all of us.”

“Thirty percent of people are concerned about their financial situation, for good reason; but when we asked people the direct question ‘Will you be able to pay your water bill this month?’ three percent of people say no, while others said they were unsure [based on current affairs].”

And yet, despite information released from the Centers for Disease Control, which said drinking water systems were safe, when consumers were asked directly if they were worried about the virus being transmitted through their water supply, 41 percent of people reported they were concerned, with 8 percent of those people responding that they were “very concerned” about the safety of the water coming out of their taps.

“One of the key goals for our industry, I think, is to get the message out that your water is safe, and [coronavirus] will not be transmitted though your drinking water,” Heath said.

As states across the country begin to reopen, utilities that engage with their customers consistently and often will come out on top. Now is the time to be proactive in your messaging that water is safe — your customers are listening.

Be safe, and thanks for reading! WW

About the Author

Alanna Maya | Chief Editor

Alanna Maya is a San Diego State University graduate with more than 15 years of experience writing and editing for national publications. She was Chief Editor for WaterWorld magazine, overseeing editorial, web and video content for the flagship publication of Endeavor's Water Group. In addition, she was responsible for Stormwater magazine and the StormCon conference.