About 25 percent of Americans say they never drink their tap water due to concerns with water quality and poor mineral content, according to a study by Troy-based J.D. Power. The reaction could set the stage for customer satisfaction challenges on the part of regional water utilities.
The 2020 U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study was released as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moves closer to implementing regulations for PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), commonly referred to as forever chemicals in the U.S. drinking water supply.
“A combination of bad taste, bad smell, high mineral content, and general fears about water safety are prompting a sizable portion of Americans – particularly in western and southern states – to avoid drinking their tap water,” says Andrew Heath, senior director of utilities intelligence at J.D. Power. “Fixing these problems requires a significant focus on infrastructure, both to ensure water quality and to communicate with customers, showing them proof that infrastructure is well maintained and that the water is safe.”
Overall customer satisfaction with the local water utility is 52 points lower on a 1,000-point scale among customers who never drink their tap water compared to those who always drink it.
Specific water quality issues that drive the decision to not consume tap water include bad taste (11 percent), bad smell (10 percent), poor clarity (8 percent), scaling/water hardness (8 percent), and high lead or mineral content (5 percent).
Water utilities are required to test the tap water and publish an annual Consumer Confidence Report to assure their customers it’s safe to drink. Of the 40 percent of customers who recall seeing or receiving the report, 80 percent then say they drink the tap water.
Water consumption has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 36 percent of households saying they are consuming more water than they did previously, including drinking 18 percent more glasses of water and doubling the number of times they wash their hands. Despite evidence to the contrary provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41 percent of water utility customers across the country express concern regarding the transmission of COVID-19 through their drinking water supply.
Overall satisfaction scores are 106 points higher when customers recall receiving four or more communications from their utility (such as phone calls, emails, text messages, or social media messages) than when customers do not recall such communication. About 5 percent of water utility customers recall receiving four or more communications from their utility. About 30 percent of customers recall receiving any communications from their water utility.
Across electric, gas, and water utilities, customer satisfaction improves when customers use their utility’s mobile apps and websites. Overall satisfaction among utility customers using digital only channels is 788, compared with 754 among those who use the phone only and 715 among those who have no interaction.
The study measures customer satisfaction with water utilities in eight geographic regions. Highest-ranking utilities and scores, by region, are as follows:
- Midwest large: Illinois American Water (764)
- Midwest midsize: City of Minneapolis (757)
- Northeast large: NYC Environmental Protection (778)
- Northeast midsize: Monroe County Water Authority (774)
- South large: Gwinnett County (781)
- South midsize: Orange County Utilities (789)
- West large: Seattle Public Utilities (764)
- West midsize: Irvine Ranch Water District (752)
The U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study is now in its fifth year and measures satisfaction among residential customers of 90 water utilities that deliver water to at least 400,000 customers and is reported in four geographic regions and two size categories. Overall satisfaction is measured by examining 33 attributes in six factors: quality and reliability, price, conservation, billing and payment, communications, and customer service.
More information is available here.
J.D. Power was established in 1968 and has offices serving North America, Asia Pacific, and Europe.