Disputes arising from poor quality customer data will “really hurt” water retailers

Companies in the new competitive water sector must “work together” to ensure that data being fed into the market’s central operating system is correct. A failure to do so will lead to disputes and poor customer experience, experts have warned.

“The hard work is just beginning,” said Waterscan managing director Neil Pendle, speaking at Water UK’s City Conference yesterday. “The data is solid, but it is not perfect, and there is an awful lot to do on the data-side so customers get a great experience.”

During a panel debate, Pendle said everything in the new market will revolve around data, and that if this is not right, that will lead to disputes between customers, brokers, retailers and wholesalers.

“‘Disputes’ is an ugly word and we really don’t want that,” he said. “It will really hurt retailers if they don’t get this data right, the ball is now transferring to their court.”

Also on the panel, outgoing MOSL chief executive Ben Jeffs said legacy data, which has been collected over the last 20, 30 or 40 years, may cause problems.

He said switching a customer and getting them to pay a bill is “all relatively straightforward” when the data lines up in all of the systems that feed it. However, problems occur if the data does not all line up.

“We’ve got those new processes with a multiplicity of new systems using average market quality data. On top of that, the core processes that are in operations in water companies have also changed and will be operated by new users.

“The program teams that have been put in place to implement the market are being downsized the responsibilities are being handed across to the operational teams.”

Jeffs suggested there will be a period of two or three years where the market will settle out. “Our business plan is predicated on there being higher costs in year one, slightly lower costs in year two, and hitting steady state in year three.”

The pre-switching process began on Monday 9 March, and so far more than 700 customers have pre-switched ahead of the opening of the market next month.

Ofwat chair Jonson Cox suggested data had so far required “more housekeeping than really should have been the case”.

“At the micro-level, companies have had to do a lot of housekeeping on customer data – to check whether customers comply with water regulations, verify their data etc,” he said. “Maybe it required more housekeeping than really should have been the case.

“It is important because retailers in competitive markets won’t stand for being messed around by data or system inadequacies of previously monopoly incumbents.”

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