Water Utility Customer Trust Lags Trust in Other Household Service Providers, but 10 Utilities Stand Out

August 31, 2021

Citing concerns over quality and outreach, customer trust in water utilities lags trust in electric and natural gas utilities. Consumers are satisfied with neither the healthfulness and taste of their tap water nor utility outreach, especially communications on conservation and community support. The result is that water utility Customer Trust scores a low 698 (on a 1,000-point scale) compared with other household service providers. These findings are part of the Cogent Syndicated 2021 Water Utility Customer Trust and Satisfaction Benchmark report from Escalent, a top human behavior and analytics advisory firm.

The report also highlights some positives for water utilities. Although still lower compared with other utilities, water utilities’ Customer Trust scoring has increased 13 points from last year (685). Water utility customers are highly satisfied with bill amounts, the billing process, customer service, water clarity and utility dedication to improving quality. And while only 61% of customers recall any communication from their water utility, those customers rate their utility 84 points higher on customer trust, indicating an improvement opportunity for these companies.

“Much of the nation is fighting drought and will soon be developing infrastructure plans so now is a great time for water utilities to pivot from basic satisfaction with service to putting the evolving needs of their customers and communities first,” said Chris Oberle, senior vice president at Escalent. “Without customer trust, water utilities will have difficulty influencing consumers to use tap water or change their water consumption behaviors. Water utilities need to become more interactive to prove they are dedicated to water quality, the environment and the communities they serve.”

Other key findings of the report include:

  • There is a large upside potential for water utilities to build customer trust as their brand trust scores lag electric and natural gas utilities by 45 to 86 points on average.
  • Customers say water utility conservation communication is ineffective, even though conservation is the most recalled message among consumers.
  • Water utilities in the West and South have greater customer trust than those in the East and Midwest.
  • Water outages are handled well by most utilities.
  • Most utilities are rated highly when customers contact them for service.
  • Customers who don’t recall communication from their water utility scores it a very low 617, 81 points below the industry’s overall Brand Trust Index.
  • Safety and recycling topics are the highest-rated communication messages.
  • American Water systems score above the industry average on Customer Trust but post a 200-point gap between its highest- and lowest-scoring water utility companies.
  • Aqua America systems score below the industry average on Customer Trust overall.

Escalent would like to congratulate these water utilities for being a 2021 Most Trusted Water Utility Brand for having the highest levels of customer trust nationally among their peers.

Water Utility Customer Trust Index
Fairfax Water 766
Central Arkansas Water 762
Newport News Waterworks 761
Baton Rouge Water Company 755
Orange County Utilities 754
NYC Department of Environmental Protection 747
Atlanta Watershed Management 744
WSSC Water 743
Seattle Public Utilities 742
Honolulu Board of Water Supply 741


About the Cogent Syndicated Water Utility Customer Trust and Satisfaction Benchmark Report

Escalent conducted surveys among 69,808 residential water utility customers nationwide from Q3 2020 to Q2 2021. The sample design uses a combination of quotas and weighting based on US census data by zip code to ensure a demographically balanced sample based on age, gender, income, race and ethnicity. The Customer Trust score is based upon a consumer company trust rating (0–10 scale) that is converted to a 1,000-point scale to allow benchmark comparisons.

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