The response to the Covid crisis says a lot about a company. As Chair of Welsh Water Customer Challenge Group, I have had the opportunity to have an insight into how our not for profit water company has responded to the crisis. The company of course is well used to dealing with crisis caused by severe weather conditions but never a global pandemic that impacts across all its operations.
At the outset Peter Perry as the new Chief Executive made a personal commitment to employees that there was no intention of cutting jobs, reducing salaries or furloughing the workforce.
Staff safety and well-being was seen as the top priority. While homeworking was applied for those who could from the start the continuation of the vital water services required over 1500 staff to be working in the field to ensure services meet customer needs
For most customers their contact with the customer comes through the 500 staff working from customer service centres. At the start of the lockdown there was no technical ability or equipment to allow these staff to work from home, but within a week 480 were fully functional working from home. The fact that the company has since recorded its highest ever “net promoter score” – a key measure of customer satisfaction and indicator for the Customer Challenge Group – is evidence of the success of this rapid transformation.
As a customer Challenge Group, we have a particular concern for how the company supports vulnerable customers. The company has sector leading support package with over 130000 customers benefiting from financial support with their bills -. The company has responded to the additional pressure on business and domestic customers over this period, working to provide support including reduced payment plans, payment holidays, and financial assistance funds.
The wider impact of the virus on communities has also been recognised with the tripling of the Community Fund. The additional funds have been allocated through Business In the Community, the Community Foundation and the Trussell Trust to support community projects including supporting food banks and getting provisions such as cleaning products to those who need it most. While some of the fund has been allocated to staff to support projects in their communities.
Dŵr Cymru provides an essential service and the not-for-profit model means the company does not have to worry about dividends to shareholders. There is no doubt that the economic impact of the crisis will have an impact on future income at a time when the regulator has imposed a very challenging price review. Customers have been clear as to the importance of the company continuing to invest in improving the long-term resilience of the network and there is no doubt that the company will face financial challenges in meeting its investment plans. It is going to be important that customers play their part in enabling this investment to take place through reducing the demand on system by being more water efficient and avoiding the significant costs of removing blockages in the system caused by the flushing of wet wipes.
The response of our communities also tells us a lot about the sort of Wales we want. Both the company and communities have demonstrated a great ability to adapt with amazing efforts across society. This rekindled community spirit of partnership will be essential for our long term response to recovery
Peter Davies, Chair of the Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water Customer Challenge Group
The Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water Customer Challenge Group (CCG) is independently Chaired by Peter Davies with independent secretariat support provided by Cynnal Cymru. This includes producing minutes for the meetings and liaising with the members and Chair of the group to ensure the smooth running of the CCG.[:]