This first-time, national study was based on more than 20,000 responses, representing more than 83 million residential customers of the 84 largest water utilities across the United States. Residential customers were surveyed in March 2016 and had experiences with their utility within the past six months. The Overall Water Utility Satisfaction Index measures key performance indicators in six areas: delivery (including quality), price, billing and payment, conservation, communications, and customer service.
"We are honored to receive this award from J.D. Power because it’s a direct reflection of what Illinois American Water’s customers experience with us,” said Illinois American Water President Bruce Hauk. “We know how critical water service is and how personal a service we provide. We thank our customers for their vote of confidence in our employees, who strive every day to provide safe drinking water at a good value.”
This is the first year J.D. Power has conducted a customer satisfaction study for water utilities. The study ranked U.S. water utilities serving a population of at least 400,000 residents. Utilities were categorized into the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West geographic regions.
According to J.D. Power, the study found that when critical water infrastructure is not maintained, it can cause residential delivery interruptions or create water quality problems such as bad taste and bad smell, the two issues that impact satisfaction the most. The American Society of Civil Engineers says that an estimated $1 trillion in capital spending will be needed across the nation over the next 25 years to replace thousands of miles of pipe, upgrade treatment plants and comply with stricter water quality standards.
Illinois American Water invests approximately $70 - $100 million a year on average to ensure high-quality, reliable water and/or wastewater service. According to Hauk, approximately $130 million will be invested across the state in 2016. He said, “The communities we serve rely on us to not only provide water service that supports public health, fire protection and the local economy, but to make needed investment to ensure reliable service today and in the future.”
According to J.D. Power’s press release on the study, “Delivering water that is safe to use and drink is the top priority for water utilities. However, many utilities are facing the decay of century-old infrastructures with insufficient funds necessary to make improvements. When facing the need for multi-billion dollar investments, it’s no longer good enough to just focus on the water system; it is imperative that water utilities also focus on understanding their customers, who can often be their most effective advocates when it comes to building up support for necessary improvements.”
Following are additional findings of the J.D. Power study.
- Price by Region: One-fourth (25%) of customers are not aware of the cost of their monthly water utility service. The customer-reported average monthly cost by region is $79—West; $75—Northeast; $63—South; and $60—Midwest.
- E-Bill Satisfaction Higher than Paper Bill: Billing and payment satisfaction among the 31% of customers who receive their bill electronically is much higher than among those who receive a paper bill (792 vs. 746, respectively).
- Communication Recall Builds Satisfying Relationships: Water utilities that communicate with their customers are more likely to build a satisfying customer relationship. Overall satisfaction is higher when a customer recalls a communication in the last 6 months from their water utility than when they don’t recall a communication (737 vs. 675, respectively).
- Awareness of Infrastructure Investment Increases Satisfaction: When customers are aware of their utility’s efforts to improve or replace the old infrastructure, conservation satisfaction is 734, compared with 650 when they are not aware. The same holds true when customers are familiar with their utility’s efforts to improve water quality (749 vs. 599, respectively).
- Answering Customers’ Questions on First Contact: One key to achieving high customer service satisfaction is answering a customer’s question the first time they make contact, compared with making two or more contacts. Among those contacting by phone, satisfaction is 134 points higher when the customer’s question is answered on the first contact, compared to when two or more calls are required for an answer (831 vs. 697, respectively). Similarly, when contacts are made online, satisfaction is 91 points higher when questions are answered on the first contact, compared to when two or more contacts are required (827 vs. 736, respectively).