01243 839 880 Contact Us

News, Blog & Events

Spring 2019 Retail Users Forum

Retail Market: Ending the Blame Game

A Report on the Spring 2019 Retail User Forum.

Take a look at the report here.

Responsibility and efficiency were the two overriding themes emanating from the Spring Retail User Forum.

Co-ordinated by Waterscan on behalf of water customers, the Retail User Forum takes place bi-annually. Bringing together representatives from across the water industry, the Forum aims to support retail customer success in the open water market by providing a platform for engagement with key industry bodies to raise issues, share positive feedback and discuss current challenges. The three overarching aims are to support attendees in driving down costs, improving efficiencies and ultimately becoming more resilient and sustainable in the use of water.

Speakers at the April event included: Shaun Kent – Principal at Ofwat, Steve Arthur – Market Performance Director and Sam Webb – Performance Manager at MOSL, Karma Loveday – Editor at The Water Report, Stuart Sampson – Environment and Business – Water Resources Manager at Environment Agency, Andrew Tucker – Water Efficiency Manager and Sally Bremner – Water Efficiency Project Co-ordinator at Thames Water, and Neil Pendle – Managing Director and Anastasia Sousanoglou – Water Strategy Manager at Waterscan. Water customers were represented across many and varied sectors including Aldi, TJX, Boots, Serco, Arcadia and Arla along with public sector organisations operating in the local government, academic and health arenas.

Who is Responsible for What?

The clear focus of the Forum’s morning session was about clarifying sector roles and responsibilities to quicken the pace of market progress.

While Ofwat reported a positive start for the open water market, achieving £8 million in savings (£12 million annualised) along with benefits in terms of water consumption savings, the industry regulator highlighted three key factors which it considers to be impeding the development of the market and the customer experience: accuracy of data in the central market operating system (CMOS), the number of water meters that are not being read, and wholesaler-retailer interaction. “It’s essential to address these frictions as soon as possible so retailers, brokers and customers can make offers and engage easily and efficiently,” was Ofwat’s conclusion.

In its reflections on the market to date, MOSL noted that expectations of the market were extremely high (perhaps a sign of the times since this wasn’t the case when the energy market deregulated in the 1980s). Whilst this is a good thing, the market operator stated that there was still much to do around customer awareness levels and retail-customer engagement, meter read data and billing accuracy, and creating positive end-to-end service delivery. “It’s not a numbers game; it’s not about the number of customers who have switched since the market opened, but their experience when they did,” noted Steve Arthur.

Of particular concern was the number of unread meters – the “life blood” of the market, providing the necessary data to improve the customer experience and enabling the setting of appropriate efficiency target metrics and key performance indicators. It was clear that, where Trading Parties’ performance plans have been put in place, there has been an upturn in performance and so the market needs to generate sufficient high-quality data to support enhanced self-evaluation and ultimately, its success.

The Editor of The Water Report, Karma Loveday, hosted a lively panel discussion entitled Ending the Blame Game where the need for clear responsibilities (especially when it comes to meter readings, accurate billing and issue resolution are concerned), incentivising performance, effective communication, and a focus on efficiency and sustainability were hot topics.

Our blog on the problem of meter reading explores this issue in more detail but all agreed that it was a multi-layered problem of critical importance to rectify. One major public sector customer told the Forum that his organisation had been receiving back-bills for ‘shocking amounts’ from its prior water supplier after switching as a direct result of poor meter read data. Neil Pendle of Waterscan’s advice? “Get ruthless! Customers are now rightly in control and they can set performance incentives and key deliverables via enforceable contractual terms.”

Karma Loveday’s full report on this insightful panel Q&A can be found here.

The 25 Year Water Bomb

The Environment Agency kicked-off the afternoon session highlighting the challenges around managing water resources. Population growth, climate change and inadequate protection of the water environment are all contributing to the fact that the UK will not have sufficient water by 2045 if action is not taken. With 21% of demand coming from the non-household sector, improving water efficiency to secure supply is becoming business-critical.

This theme was echoed by Thames Water in its presentation which was rich in eye-watering statistics. For example, by as early as next year, there will be a supply/demand gap across London of 133 million litres per day and this gap expands considerably during periods of high temperatures. 80% of London’s water comes from the River Thames but it would take just 90 days for London to run dry if that water was no longer available. Looking further ahead, London will have 1.19 million new homes by 2050, adding 2.38 million new dual flush toilets. Based on current levels of ‘leaky loos’ (8% of homes), this will result in at least another 38 megalitres being lost to leakage each day.

Faced with this reality, the water wholesaler has put various measures in place. In parallel with changing fitting standards and building regulations, it hopes to address the issues with smart metering, the intelligent use of data and effective digital customer engagement. It has introduced Smarter Business Visits and offers financial incentives to strong performing retailers.

Presenting, Andrew Tucker also highlighted the role of commercial water users in proactive water planning. “If you don’t have a water contingency plan in your business plan then re-write it, quickly, or run the risk of being unable to do business in the future. The hot dry summer of 2018 will happen again – don’t wait and be reactive, be proactive,” he said.

With this firmly in participants’ minds, a workshop session around water efficiency followed. Two questions were posed for discussion. Firstly, what impact could water restrictions have on your business and what would make it easier for you to take action?  Secondly, what types of efficiency measures would make the biggest difference to your organisation?

Policy measures, financial incentives and KPI accountability, customer prioritisation, a customer version of CMOS, greater transparency, reduced data complexity, customer guidance tools, hardware replacement, behaviour change campaigns, smarter data and alternative water sources were all tabled in a bid to innovate industry efficiency and we thank all who took part in this dynamic session.

Waterscan’s Anastasia Sousanoglou summed up the day by saying: The market might not be perfect yet but it can change at any time. The really exciting bit is that anyone can instigate a modification. So, if there are things that are not working, then wholesalers, retailers, regulators and customers alike all have the power to request change. If you’re a customer and you have ideas or things that you would like to see work better, be bold and suggest them!”

The next Retail User Forum is scheduled for 26th September and will take place in Birmingham. All business water customers are welcome to attend this free event. To register your interest please email info@waterscan.com.