Blog: Talking to customers about the need to save water – what works?

Ana Maria Millian
Ana Maria Millan, Policy Manager

Many parts of the UK are set to face water shortages by 2050; yet the prospect of having reduced access to water as a result of climate change can feel quite distant to customers.

Our research suggests that more than half of customers in England and Wales are not aware of the challenges we face. And, even more striking, 41% of customers in water stressed areas think water resources are plentiful where they live.

What can water companies be doing to address this?

We know that companies are already doing some great work to engage customers on why they need to save water and provide advice and gadgets to help them do so. So what works?

Here are some top tips and examples of initiatives that can have an impact.

Lead by example

Customers often tell us that they see leakage as being wasteful. If they see companies leading by example and doing what they can to save water, they will be more likely to save water too. It is great to see that many companies have interactive tools, where customers can report leaks and see updates on progress to fix them.

Tap into community spirit

For many, conversations around climate change can feel overwhelming, so tapping into a sense of collective responsibility at a more local level can help to personalise the issue. A great example of this is a project that Northumbrian Water are currently working on to encourage customers to report leaks and save water at home. By participating, communities are in with a chance of winning a shared reward that reflects how much water they saved together. Northumbrian expect to achieve a minimum of 5% total water savings over a period of 12 months.

Various water companies offer, and have offered, similar schemes with good results, and our research shows that younger customers are especially likely to take part in initiatives like this.

Tailor messages to different audiences

There are many way to let customers know about the need to save water. Some customers will pick up messages on social media, while others may be more likely to find out through their local community or through customer services. And different people will respond to different kinds of messages – some will be motivated by a desire to save money and others will want to understand how their actions can have an effect on the environment. ‘Water saving calculators’, which many companies host on their websites, are a great way to show customers how much they use, how much they can save, and promote water saving gadgets.

Help customers to visualise their water use

Our research shows that over 80% of customers are willing to take action to save water but many don’t realise how much water they use day-to-day. The best campaigns use engaging and relatable imagery to help customers visualise their use and how much they could save by making small changes to their habits. Affinity Water’s Save Our Streams campaign does a really good job of using visuals and quizzes to highlight the connection between our personal water use and the quality of our local environment.

Talk about water meters

Meters can have many benefits: from helping customers to save water (and in some cases money) to helping to detect leaks. For customers who have the choice to switch to a water meter, it is important that companies provide them with all the information they need to know whether the change would be right for them. Companies can help by making sure customers can easily find out about the pros and cons. CCW’s Water Meter Calculator provides a helpful first port of call for customers thinking of making the switch. For customers who don’t have a choice, it is vital that companies explain why meters are being installed and give practical information about how to save water. SES Water has some great information in its website for its customers about its meter installation programme.

Regardless of how customers come to have a meter, they should be aware of the help available should they experience affordability issues as a result of having a meter installed. Companies that use smart meters that provide detailed information about water use can also encourage customers to log on and check their water use to see if they can save.