VicWater Conference 2012 Presentation | The Invisible Water Utility

This article is an abstract and presentation about my viewed on customer service in tap water, held at the 2012 VicWater conference in Melbourne.

The Invisible Water Utility

The provision of water and sanitation services is an essential part of life that is being taken for granted in the developed world and citizens expect a high level of service at a reasonable cost.

The determination of reasonable cost and level of service are complicated issues, and in Victoria, the discourse on this subject is dominated by the Essential Services Commission (ESC). In this paper, an alternative model for the measurement of service quality is proposed based on contemporary thinking in the field of services marketing.

The services for water and sanitation can be divided into core and supplementary services; the core services being the supply of water and the removal of wastewater. Facilitating services are billing, payment facilities, fault correction, information provision and so on. Enhancing services are activities that do not impact the core service, such as technical assistance to developers.

In the marketing of services, the term Moment of Truth is used to describe the instant of interaction between the customer and the service provider. In water and sanitation services, customers experience many thousands of moments of truth each year. Every time a tap is opened or a toilet is flushed a Moment of Truth. If water appears, the expectations are confirmed leading to customer satisfaction. If no water emerges from the tap or is delivered at the wrong quality, the expectation is disconfirmed, leading to customer dissatisfaction.

In economic models to determine the price of water, the cost to the consumer is restricted to monetary cost. The cost to a consumer should, however, be extended to include externalities. The time required for obtaining water services—including facilitating services. Given the high level of development, the time to collect water in Australia is negligible. This negligible time cost is, however, not the case for facilitating services, which includes the recovery from service failures.

The Invisible Water Utility is a concept used to describe the highest possible level of service quality. In a perfect world, customers of a water corporation never contact the business. Bills are paid automatically, billing is accurate and easy to understand, and every time a tap is turned, or a toilet is flushed, expectations are met, and there is no need to contact the corporation, boil water or other time-consuming activities.

This conceptual idea can develop into a new model to measure service quality. The criteria currently used by the Essential Service Commission are indicators of a high level of service but do not measure the actual impact on customers. For example, the repair of a water burst itself should only be considered a service failure for those customers attempting to use water. Measuring the responsiveness at which phone calls are answers is in itself not a complete indicator of service quality. Every question forms a customer regarding billing is the time they need to invest to enjoy the service and should be avoided. More meaningful indicators can be developed to measure the reasons customers call their service providers, which can help to eliminate these causes, working towards total invisibility.

The Invisible Water Utility is a concept under development as part of my PhD research into the relationship between organisational culture and service quality in the water and sanitation industry.

VicWater Conference 2012 Presentation Slides

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