Bristol Water, along with other water and waste water companies, operates in a regulated environment. Every five years they submit a business plan to the regulator to review the next five years of customer pricing. The current price review is being conducted in 2019, and so for the past two years, Bristol Water have been developing their business plans for submission.
For this price review (known as PR19), the regulator, Ofwat, has given clear signals that they expect pricing to be based on detailed understanding of and meaningful engagement with customers. Bristol Water recognise this, but also understand the value of customer engagement to a business that has a lifelong relationship with its customers. Bristol Water was looking for support to bring together best practice from across the organisation, to innovate where it adds value, and to put their customer engagement work on a robust footing at the centre of their business planning process.
Our small team of engagement experts was embedded in Bristol Water from the start, taking the role of facilitators and coaches. We helped the BW team to refine their ideas about what a customer engagement strategy could offer the business, how it could be developed collaboratively, and what the impacts would be.
We provided a rapid evidence review to help Bristol Water evaluate current practice and evidence, then worked with their wider team to co-create a strategic programme that makes the most of their skills and opportunities. We incorporated input from regulatory economists to ensure the strategy meets the needs of the business and the regulator, while maintaining our focus on a strategy that is clear, motivating and above all deliverable. In addition, we recommended an evaluation structure to ensure that the activities were being effectively monitored and measured.
We successfully took the strategy through Bristol Waters governance process, including the external Customer Challenge Group which will report to Ofwat in 2019.
Over two years, we worked with the Bristol Water team to ensure the customer engagement delivered through the programme was high quality, relevant to business needs, and developed the skills and understanding of colleagues across the organisations. Bristol Water now have an in-depth understanding of their customer base, a way of monitoring and reviewing their customer data, and also have a rich library of research available to them. Key staff within the business also have a greater understanding of the value of engagement, and how to procure, design, deliver and evaluate effective engagement. Through ensuring this learning, the Bristol Water team can now run some of their own engagement in-house, and build close and meaningful relationships with their customers, rather than constantly working through contractors and intermediaries.
Most importantly, the work that Bristol Water did within the PR19 process transformed their relationship with customers. The majority of customers who were involved in the engagement activities expressed an interest in being involved again in future, and some groups of customers have become advocates for the business, and have committed to be working together with Bristol Water long term to provide challenge and feedback. When previously the Bristol Water team were nervous about encouraging customer feedback, they know relish the opportunity to invite customers into the business to test their ideas and plans.
You can explore how they are now engaging with customers on a daily basis on their website here, and read further reflections from our team about their work with Bristol Water in this blog post.