Customer satisfaction remains stagnant with US residential water utilities

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There has been no changes in customer satisfaction with residential water utilities in the US between 2020 and 2021, according to a new study released by J.D Power.

Factors that have resulted in no change year over year in customer satisfaction include a combination of major regional service interruptions, significantly increased water consumption, higher utility bills, and a lack of effective communication by utilities during the pandemic, according to J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.

The 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.

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Other key study findings include:

  • 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.

Andrew Heath, senior director of utilities intelligence at J.D. Power, said: “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.

“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.”

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. Overall satisfaction is measured by examining 33 attributes in six factors: 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.

Find out more about the study.