With the latest switching figures since April being made public recently – 36,000 (1.4% of the potential market) – there is much talk about how switching in the new market is off to a slow start and that savings are minimal. OfWat call for tariffs to be made clearer and easier to enable businesses to ‘compare the market’ and understand where they can get the cheapest deal (which, given the number of variants that each business and wholesaler has is not as easy as it sounds!).

However, with it being common knowledge that the margins are so tight and that even by offering a 1% discount for smaller businesses the retailer could be left in the red, what is the race to the bottom on price going to lead to in terms of customer service?

Every business is unique and has very different requirements from its clean and waste water retailer, from the small office that uses it to make tea or flush the loo, to a restaurant where it is business critical, or an airport that would literally come to a standstill without it. Consideration of the level of input each business needs from their retailer and how they would like to interact with them is key to delivering exceptional customer service.

Even the smallest business with a tiny kitchen for tea and coffee would like to know that if they must contact their retailer, the retailer will answer their call quickly and resolve their query, that those customer service staff are well trained, friendly, and empowered to help them. We know that customers want their meters to be read and their bills to be accurate – they would rather not have a reason to contact their retailer at all… but if they need to, they would like to know the experience won’t be long and painful. Providing this basic responsive service is important to all customers – and retailers shouldn’t lose sight of this when trying to win business.

As retailers in a new industry, we have our work cut out educating customers about the market and changing their negative perceptions of switching that our friends in the gas and electricity industries have firmly imprinted on them. We need to advise them how they can effectively save water in their business to reduce their bills, and we need to show transparency in our pricing but leave enough in the pot to provide them with a high level of service and not leave them hanging on the phone for hours, so that they can get on with running their business.

We just don’t believe that a stack it high and sell it cheap model works in this market, not in a practical operational sense or morally – in a time when we are being urged to drive down water usage, find innovative ways to reuse and save, leave more in the ground so that there is enough to go around – is it really the time to devalue this precious resource further by squeezing every last drop of profit in an attempt to win the most switches?

Affinity for Business