Consumer Trust in Drinking Water Supply - assessing the interface between the supplier and the consumer
Licentiate thesis, 2008
This thesis explores the interface between the supplier and the consumer to identify factors that have influence on consumer trust in water supply. This is done through field studies in two different consumer situations: 1) Accra (Ghana) where access to water is limited and can be an everyday struggle and 2) Gothenburg (Sweden) where water is abundant and water supply is taken for granted. In total, six qualitative field studies were carried out through stakeholder interviews and consumer questionnaires. The interface was structured around five areas: planning, supply, sales, customer service and public relations.
Results showed that the Gothenburg urban water system is considered well invested and well functioning in terms of both technical performance and supply service. Consumers expressed a strong sense of trust and confidence in the water supply and few consumers felt concerns related their water supply, although risks exists. The supplier operates in a consumer-oriented way managing to meet consumer preferences. This is characterized by high transparency in decision making, a well informed public, consumer dialogue, satisfactory complaints and request handling, etc. The supplier stressed the importance of maintaining consumer trust in the long-term.
In Accra, results showed that consumer trust was not high on the supplier agenda as other water supply challenges were considered more important to tackle at this stage, to have the most positive impact on the consumers’ situation. Access to water was identified as the key issue and consumer priority. Most people lack regular supply, affecting livelihood and wellbeing. The water sector was not perceived to meet consumer preferences. Consumers expressed a lack in performance and responsiveness from the supplier. Cost recovery issues within the water sector were addressed to high levels of non-revenue water linked to illegal consumer practices. It was clear that there is a perception that behaviours and attitudes of both water sector employees and the public is affecting public relations and cost recovery negatively. Other issues mentioned related to water quality, affordability and duty of care i.e. providing information to consumers, complaints and request handling etc. Levels of dialogue between the supplier and the consumer were considered insufficient to the extent that consumers have little hope that the situation will improve. Trust and confidence was low and thought to be a consequence of water supply mismanagement. There was a call for increased engagement, communication and interaction from the suppliers.
It is concluded that taking responsibility in all five of the identified areas of planning, supply, sales, customer service and public relations, is essential in fostering and maintaining consumer trust. The factors found to influence consumer trust not only relates to confidence in the supply and social trust in the supplier but also to a general trust in the functions of society.
Drinking water supply