I read an article in the agricultural trade press this week in which a farmer was expressing frustration at the ‘useless’ response provided to him by ‘the water company’ during the recent period of water supply issues.
It reminded me again of the fact the water industry collectively still needs to work harder to manage the expectations of non-household customers, and openly address the grey area that exists around responsibility for alternative/emergency supplies.
And I have questions. Who is ‘the water company’? Was the customer speaking with the wholesaler or retailer? Or neither? What was their expectation of a response? Did they expect an emergency supply to arrive free of charge? And on what timescale…
Why hadn’t they thought about this before?
This is a common situation and I’ve often heard retailers tell their customers it’s the wholesaler’s responsibility to help them, and vice-versa.
When a customer experiences a problem they turn into a distressed customer (retailers, at this point the customer is at risk of taking their business elsewhere!). They don’t know where to turn, they weren’t expecting a cost, they don’t fully understand the options.
Ultimately the customer is left high and dry (excuse the pun!) resulting in a poor customer experience.
Whose problem is it?
I think the industry needs to accept that it isn’t ‘someone else’s problem’. We need to work better together to raise awareness and offer clear advice.
My personal opinion is that it is ultimately the customers who must be sure that whatever plans they have in place are fit for purpose; our responsibility is to help and inform them.
I’ve read wholesaler policy statements, including one that says in black and white that; non-household customers whose business processes are particularly sensitive to changes in the water supply are expected to maintain their own business continuity plans for managing unplanned changes in water services.
This seems quite clear to me, and yet I’ve sat in NHS trust boardrooms opposite emergency planners, who are open-mouthed at the potential risk that their 600-bed hospital could be without water.
“But we’re a priority customer!” they say. My personal understanding is this: Non-household customers, agreed as ‘sensitive’ between the retailer and wholesaler must be ‘treated as a priority’.
That sounds reassuring, but what does it actually mean?
Unless there has been thorough consideration given to the specific needs of the site and scale and type of response required, a plan set out and a firm commitment to scale and speed of response; then there will be absolutely no guarantee that the level of priority service provided will meet the expectations of the customer.
Bearing in mind that the same organisations routinely invest in emergency power generators, IT back up and support; Why is it such an alien concept to do the same for water?
What about customers not agreed as ‘sensitive’?
Office buildings, food processing plants, farms and hotels are among the many other non-household customers that are at risk of commercial impact.
The wholesaler’s regulatory obligation remains to household customers, and there are (SEMD) parameters set out that inform the scale and speed of response. Not so for non-household customers. You can probably imagine a scenario where a wholesalers’ regulatory obligations were such that their priority response to a non-household customer did not meet their expectations…
Why wait for that day? Please don’t turn a blind eye to the potential issues of a water supply interruption. My advice to customers is this:
- Arrange for a thorough contingency plan to be put in place. One that not only sets out the risks and consequences of a supply interruption, but also clearly defines the response you expect and how it will be delivered.
- Ask your retailer what contingency services they offer.
- Ask your wholesaler for clarity on what they can do to help.
- Don’t accept the idea that it’s someone else’s problem.
- At the very least keep contact details for a reputable emergency water supplier in your business continuity ‘battle box’ just in case.
Let’s create open and transparent discussion around the subject of water as a critical business continuity theme. It should be up there on exactly the same level as IT and power.