J.D. Power: Customer satisfaction with water utilities sees decline

The six-year streak of improving or flat customer satisfaction with residential water utilities has come to an end. According to the J.D. Power 2022 U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, recently released, the past several years of goodwill earned through investment in water quality, proactive customer communications and digital customer service channels have been washed away by a significant increase in monthly bills.

“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Andrew Heath, senior director of utilities intelligence at J.D. Power. “The rate relief efforts put in place during the pandemic have come to an end just as the forces of inflation have driven a significant increase in the monthly bills of residential customers. Customer satisfaction has declined in every factor of the study, as the average monthly water utility bill in the U.S. is now up $5.73 from 2020—without a corresponding increase in consumption. Utilities looking to combat this negative sentiment really need to get serious about proactive customer communications and customer service.”

Following are key findings of the 2022 study:

  • Customer satisfaction goes down the drain as prices rise: Overall customer satisfaction with residential water utilities is 731 (on a 1,000-point scale), down 6 points from last year’s study and ending six consecutive years of improving or flat satisfaction levels. The decline coincides with a $5.73 increase in the average monthly bill amount vs. 2020. Importantly, that cost increase does not correspond with a significant increase in water usage that was seen in 2021 when a largely home-bound customer population was consuming more water than ever.
  • Declines observed in every factor: While customer satisfaction scores decline in every factor of the study this year, the declines are most pronounced in the areas of communications and price. Notably, among those customers who receive a bill, 35 percent say they recall hearing about a rate increase by their water utility.
  • Digital communications and customer service more important than ever: Overall satisfaction scores are highest (794) when customers recall receiving a proactive electronic communication from their water utility. Likewise, the number of customers using digital channels to access customer service increases 43 percent from 2019 and customer satisfaction is highest when interacting with customer service digitally.

Study Rankings

The study measures customer satisfaction with water utilities in eight geographic regions. Highest-ranked utilities and scores, by region, are as follows:

  • Midwest Large: Illinois American Water (773) (for a third consecutive year)
  • Midwest Midsize: Aqua (758)
  • Northeast Large: NYC Environmental Protection (763)
  • Northeast Midsize: Boston Water and Sewer Commission (762)
  • South Large: Miami-Dade County (766)
  • South Midsize: Orange County Utilities (794)
  • West Large: Seattle Public Utilities (766) (for a third consecutive year)
  • West Midsize: Irvine Ranch Water District (771)

The U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, now in its seventh year, measures satisfaction among residential customers of 90 water utilities that deliver water to at least 400,000 customers and is reported in four geographic regions and two size categories: Midwest Large, Midwest Midsize, Northeast Large, Northeast Midsize, South Large, South Midsize, West Large and West Midsize. Overall satisfaction is measured by examining 33 attributes in six factors (listed in order of importance): quality and reliability; price; conservation; billing and payment; communications; and customer service. The study is based on the responses of 33,054 residential water utility customers and was conducted in four waves from June 2021 through March 2022.

For more information about the U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, visit
jdpower.com/business/utilities/water-utility-residential-customer-satisfaction-study.

J.D. Power is a global provider of consumer insights, advisory services and data and analytics. J.D. Power has been delivering industry intelligence on customer interactions with brands and products for more than 50 years.

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