Perception is Reality: Customer Perception of Water Quality

Managing water quality is dominated by chemistry. Customers’ perception of water quality is, however, mostly a psychological dimension.

Water utilities spend a considerable amount of energy in ensuring that drinking water is safe to drink. Armies of scientists and engineers undertake sophisticated analysis to ensure that customers can safely enjoy their water.

In my research, I am collecting data from customers of water utilities in Australia and hopefully also from other countries. The question is related to customers’ perception of the quality of the supply, including aesthetics and taste. The questionnaire also contains an item associated with the difficulty people have paid their regular water bills as an indicator of the level of financial hardship experienced by customers.

The research is not yet complete, but the data is showing an interesting trend. All quality variables strongly negatively correlated with the level of financial hardship experienced by customers. In other words, the higher the level of hardship, the lower the customer will evaluate the quality of the supply of the water. It might be argued that this is caused by people with lower incomes mainly living in areas with a lower level of quality. The correlation does, however, also hold for quality perceptions that are not location-specific, such as promptness of service requests.

Financial hardship was found to be a significant predictor of grades. It appears that the level of financial hardship experienced by customers is related to their perception of the physical parameters of the water. Further research is required to confirm this relationship.

Relationship between financial hardship and perceived technical service quality (F(1, 107) = 8.948, p<.005).
Relationship between financial hardship and perceived technical service quality (F(1, 107) = 8.948, p<.005).

Customer Perception of Water Quality and Taste

Taste experience has been researched in depth in perception psychology. One of my favourite pieces of work is a study that shows that the taste of water is influenced by the material of the cup it is consumed from.1 This research emphasises a thought I expressed in a previous idea: safe water is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition for good water.

Delivering water that meets every known technical specification and health regulation will not guarantee customer satisfaction. Supplying tap water can be viewed from a perspective of experiential marketing. This philosophy of marketing relies on perception psychology to inform how a service is provided.

Footnotes

  1. Krishna, A., & Morrin, M. (2008). Does touch affect the taste? The perceptual transfer of product container haptic cues. Journal of Consumer Research, 34(6), 807–818.

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