Alun Shurmer, director of customer strategy and communications, Welsh Water Customers, Domestic water retail, Water, Opinion, Welsh Water

Trust. Hard to earn but easy to lose, they say.

For the water sector, however, trust is not just a bonus in its relationship with customers – trust in the product we provide is taken for granted by customers and is non-negotiable for companies.

Every drop of water that flows from our customers’ taps is implicitly trusted by our customers to be safe and healthy. That trust shows we are doing our job of protecting our health, our communities, our environment and our economy.

Yet trust in the product is not always extended to trust in the companies that serve it – indeed, according to the global PR firm Edelman, trust in institutions and companies around the globe is in crisis.

Trust is dependent on the perception and actions of a company and their willingness to be visible with and engaged with their customers and communities. Keeping your head below the parapet and providing an “invisible” service is no longer – and never has been – sufficient to really build customer trust and satisfaction.

Trust is built on two strong foundations of familiarity and favourability. Familiarity requires transparency and meaningful, two-way communication with customers; favourability requires good provision of service and products, and a good perception of value for money.

Getting this right is hard, but you will earn a good reward; get the product or service wrong, however, and you will undoubtedly lose.

“Earning the trust of our customers every day” is Welsh Water’s vision and central to our business strategy. At the heart of this strategy is the improving how we engage with customers – from day-to-day business activities to long term planning, from educating future customers to using automated “chatbots” on Facebook Messenger to capture customers’ views. We’re seeing positive results, but as our vision says, trust is something that we have to make a concerted effort to earn, every day.

Alun Shurmer will be speaking at the Utility Week Water Customer Conference on 17 January in Birmingham.