Planning for the future Our Purpose Our vision is to be the national leader in the provision of sustainable water and waste water services and we are constantly looking for more efficient, innovative ways to improve our services to make life even better. Value for money is key, and we aim to impress our customers with excellent service, at a fair price.
By Liz Allen and Ewan King. The current price review PR14 has challenged water companies to deliver formal, targeted, large-scale engagement with customers and stakeholders. This has placed many water companies on a steep learning curve, not least because few possess any track record of running activities beyond their regular customer contact programmes.
A period of trial, error and experimentation followed, which as PR14 draws to a close, offers some important lessons for those preparing to lead future price reviews.
Developing a robust business plan is a highly technical process. It requires planners to consider and balance a vast range of technical information over a period of nearly four years. Plans for customer engagement need to closely dovetail with this process so that customer research directly feeds into key decisions, especially about the willingness to pay for different levels of service.
To inform the development of its business plan for PR14, Anglian Water developed its widest ever consultation with customers and stakeholders, which aimed to take into account and balance the wide range of different and sometimes competing priorities shaping the future of its water services for years to come.
This involved the set-up, maintenance and hosting of a consultation website, using bespoke software which allowed respondents to review and edit their submissions until the closing date. Responses were submitted online, on paper, via email and were collected by the Anglian Water team, at roadshow events or by their customer service representatives.
The consultation closed on 24 Marchwith a total of 4, responses received — a rate which greatly exceeded the estimated number of 1, responses Second, water companies need to demonstrate that customer engagement has been genuine and real. It is tempting to write off customers as uninterested in water companies, and thus unwilling and unable to engage with the technical detail.
Thus, innovative approaches to engagement are required that actually show people influenced choices and real decisions, rather than simply rubber stamping decisions that had already been taken. Deliberative events in particular — which OPM Group has run for several companies — can be a useful device for eliciting customer insight into emerging business priorities and investment strategies.
Carried out early enough, they can help companies think through a range of alternative plans, gaining insight from a customer perspective about the pros and cons of different investment options. Another example is provided by the deliberative forums run for Affinity Water.
The events comprised facilitated discussions and subsequent presentation of the points raised between small groups, and four interactive voting sessions in which participants discussed and voted on presentations given by senior Affinity Water staff.
Third, it is important that water companies end up with a clear understanding of what customers are telling them. Some price review processes involve water companies — particularly larger ones — conducting numerous separate research studies which range in size, quality and methodology.
Faced with incessant internal demands from planners and shareholders and external demands from Customer Challenge Groups and regulatorscompanies can fixate on one piece of research over and above another, or forget about some studies entirely.
Periodically, it is important to take a step back, review the research and engagement results in their entirety, and interpret what they are showing.
It is helpful in this regard to conduct a meta-analysis or synthesis of all of the research data, applying weightings to different forms of evidence, and pulling out key messages that are strongly supported by different evidence sources.
This synthesis can then be used to inform specific aspects of the business plan, while reassuring the Customer Challenge Group that all research has been taken into account and nothing has been missed.
Finally, customer research should be an ongoing activity for all water companies, not something that happens solely as part of a five-yearly price review cycle.
Good research practice can improve decision-making and enhance customer satisfaction. Leading water companies recognise this and are already considering how they will conduct customer engagement in the future and not just for the next price review.
The lessons learned from this review — to undertake detailed planning, to use innovative research techniques, and to produce clear audit trails on the key messages customers are conveying — will already be being applied even as water companies begin to think about what to do next.If you would like to apply for an allowance, please login to your online account and complete the relevant form.
You may need to do this if there has been a burst, your supply has been used for fire fighting, or you want to change an existing allowance. Final determinations upper quartile comparative assessments Email and letters to companies about cost allocation PwC review of Northumbrian Water’s debt management cost models.
•Made good progress on PR14 plan •More flexibility in delivery of plan & risk / reward appetite •Aligned to the PR14 methodology (water/waste/retail) •Taking action - e.g. non-household customer wins Business Plan Rating Resubmission Standard Enhanced • Good outcomes. Water industry regulator Ofwat has published details of the water companies AMP6 business plans for the services they plan to deliver for as part of the price review process.
Anglian Water’s original business plan had a number of strengths, and in particular the company had demonstrated effective customer engagement with wider consumers and environmental interest groups in the development of its outcomes and associated performance commitments.
Anglian Water is extending its consultation on its business plan for the PR14 price review by two weeks after a high number of responses. In January the utility launched its biggest ever customer consultation - Discover, Discuss, Decide - asking people how they think Anglian Water should keep bills fair and affordable while tackling challenges like .