Page 2: Changing customer expectations
1st September 1989 was a critical date for the water industry in England and Wales. It was the date which signalled the reorganisation of the water industry through the process of privatisation. Yorkshire Water Plc became one of the ten Water Service Companies (WSCs) in the UK formed by the Water Act of 1989. Its core responsibility was to provide water supply and sewerage services to an area of over 13,000 sq km in Yorkshire. This meant providing drinking water to over 4.5 million people and treating effluent from people and industry to an equivalent of 7.5 million people.
Though privatisation on the one hand represented the end of public sector constraints, on the other it meant having to use these new found freedoms responsibly. There were many concerns that prices would go up, standards of service would go down, that customers would be neglected and that the environment might be damaged. Many of these concerns were unjustified. For Yorkshire Water it meant no more battles with Whitehall, the freedom to manage, being able to plan ahead and to borrow from the most effective source. But, whereas in the past water authorities had the role of gamekeeper and poacher, in the private sector Yorkshire Water and the other Water Service Companies became amongst the most regulated companies in the world.
Whilst drinking water standards and the actions of Yorkshire Water are monitored by domestically based organisations such as the Environment Agency, the Office of Water Services, the Drinking Water Inspectorate and the Office of Fair Trading as well as other consumer legislation, the European Union Directive on the Quality of Water for Human Consumption sets stringent minimum standards for over 50 different substances and has been incorporated by the UK Government into the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations. OFWAT is the regulatory body, independent of the water industry, which protects the interests of customers by ensuring they are provided with water and sewerage services which meet statutory standards and are within the price limits set (i.e. that customers get a good service at a fair price).
At the same time, customer perceptions have changed. In the consumer-orientated society in which we live, customers demand exceptionally high standards from service providers. Changes such as exposure to different cultures and lifestyles, increasing consumer choice, better mobility and education standards have resulted in far more demanding and sophisticated customers. In fact, customers want Yorkshire Water to be honest and open and they also want high quality services representing good value for money. For Yorkshire Water, the move towards consumerism is not just about meeting consumer needs with high service standards for its products, but also about how it deals with customers to provide superior customer care.
A commitment to water quality standards
A standard is a fixed basis against which something can be measured. For example, if more people pass a business studies exam from one year to another and other things are equal, we could say that standards have improved. If fewer pass, then they will have fallen. This is particularly important for a business because standards:
- help to identify and deal with problems;
- provide a measure against which the performance of the company can be evaluated;
- assist with the forward planning of the business;
- provide better standards of efficiency and service for customers.
Water for Yorkshire Water customers comes from a variety of sources; about one half from moorland reservoirs, one quarter from rivers and one quarter from boreholes. A small amount is obtained from springs. Yorkshire Water provides reports on the quality of water for every area of supply. The reports give information on the type of water supplied and the results of tests on samples taken throughout the year from where treated water is stored and from customers’ taps and these are then compared with UK drinking water standards.