Judging by the available publications and conference papers, the water industry is dominated by engineers, scientists and economists, with much less attention given to research into customer service. The application of marketing theories to provide value to customers of water utilities is an under-researched area given the monopoly status of service providers. The purpose of this presentation is to share some of the results of this research on the relationship between engineering and customer satisfaction.
A paradox appears to exist in the provision of reticulated water services. Providing service at a high level of technical proficiency is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition to ensure customer satisfaction. To further research this problem, several stakeholder organisations of reticulated water customers have been interviewed to investigate the factors determining customer centric service provision. These interviews revealed that a ‘professional orientation’ could exist, obstructing the creation of a positive customer experience. Focusing on the professional aspects of service delivery (engineering, finance, procedures and politics) carries the risk of losing sight of the human dimension, leading to dissatisfaction.
technology is predictable; consumer behaviour is unpredictable
The core of the issue is that technology and science are predictable―engineering problems can be solved in neat equations―while human behaviour is more complex and cannot be captured in models and equations. Tensions between marketing and engineering have been extensively researched in the manufacturing industry, but not in service provision. More detailed research is being conducted, collecting data from water utilities to investigate further the relationship between customer service and engineering.
In this presentation, the preliminary results of this research will be outlined. Based on these findings, a model for experiential marketing of water services is proposed, which moves away from a focus on asset performance to a focus on customer experience.