Business Customer Insight 2021

We collaborated with Ofwat to commission research between June and November 2021 examining business customers’ experiences of the non-household retail market in England. The market – which opened fully in April 2017 – allows businesses to shop around for a better deal from water retailers on price and service.

It’s the fourth successive year we’ve collaborated with Ofwat on this research which also feeds into the regulator’s annual State of the Market review – a report examining the wider performance of the market.

Our researchers, ORS, surveyed 700 businesses, charities and public sector organisations (of all types and sizes) – to provide a representative sample of businesses eligible to switch supplier in the market. This sample would have been larger had it not been for the challenges of carrying out fieldwork during Covid-19. The lingering restrictions and impact of the pandemic made contacting some businesses – particularly key decision makers – more difficult.

Key findings:

  • Overall customer satisfaction with water retail services fell to 73 per cent – down 5 per cent from 2020. This continues the trend of steady decline we have witnessed since 2019 when it reached 80 per cent. Levels of dissatisfaction have increased significantly to 17 per cent from 6 per cent last time. The most frequent reason given for dissatisfaction was billing issues (65%), followed by customer service (45%) and metering problems (34%)
  • Fewer than half of customers (43%) were aware of the retail water market. This is a significant decrease compared to 2020 (58%). The decrease has been mainly driven by falling awareness among micro-businesses.
  • Just under 4 per cent of all customers had switched or renegotiated with their existing supplier at some point in the last 12 months. This figure has remained static since market opening.

On the impact of Covid-19

  • 43 per cent of businesses had experienced a significant reduction in revenue or ability to trade/operate as a result of COVID-19, with 20 per cent experiencing some more moderate reduction. Business customer insight survey 2021
  • Overall, 7 per cent of customers stated that they had experienced difficulties paying their bills as a result of the pandemic – similar to the proportion (6%) who reported having issues with payment of electricity and gas bills.

CCW wants to see a significant improvement in customer satisfaction in the coming months and years. This research will help to inform the causes of customer dissatisfaction where suppliers need to focus their attention. That includes making sure suppliers address customers’ concerns over inaccurate bills, through reducing the number of unread meters. This should improve billing accuracy.

We will also continue to work with retailers to develop and share good practice – using real-life case studies to illustrate customer detriment and where things need to improve.

Note: This research was conducted in 2021, but due to Covid-19, it was published in 2022.