Part 2: Customer service

Planning to meet the forecast demand for drinking water in Auckland.

Until the 1 November 2010 amalgamation, Watercare operated as a bulk supplier and did not directly supply water or wastewater services to retail customers. Since the amalgamation, Watercare has taken over billing, emergency repairs, and maintenance of local reticulation networks. Although Watercare receives customer requests for repairs, contractors under contracts pre-dating the amalgamation carry out the actual repairs to, and maintenance of, local reticulation networks.

Before amalgamation, all of the water delivered by Watercare met an "A" standard under the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards. Water delivered from those same systems will still meet that standard. However, Watercare has also taken over some rural systems that will need to be upgraded or replaced to meet the "A" standard. Watercare has told us that it plans to upgrade or replace these systems, and we will review its plans when we review its draft Asset Management Plan later in 2011.

When a problem with the reticulation network arose before amalgamation, different service standards from the different local network operators meant that the time it would take to resolve the problem varied. Contractors under contracts inherited by Watercare still provide the same services to local reticulation networks. Watercare wants to provide a uniform level of service for all urban areas. It has been successful in getting the contractors servicing local reticulation networks to voluntarily operate to common service levels. There are still some regional differences in service levels, but we expect these differences to lessen in coming months.

Watercare had to implement systems and procedures to service the new retail customers it acquired after amalgamation. Since amalgamation, it has operated a customer service centre that provides billing to customers, a call centre, complaints processes, staff to handle customer correspondence, and web-based tools for customers to manage their own accounts.

We spoke with staff involved with customer service. Their view was that, overall, customer service had improved since amalgamated operations began. However, they noted that more improvements were needed if they were going to meet all of their service performance goals. Staff appeared confident that those improvements would be made as operations continued and they were able to refine their processes.

We reviewed the monthly management reporting used to monitor customer service, the monthly reporting provided to the Board of Watercare, and the quarterly reporting provided to Auckland Council. We found that the reporting was consistent, with appropriate differences in the level of detail provided. The management reporting we reviewed provided a good overview of the customer service operations at Watercare and integrated well with the service performance information presented in the Annual Report. The annual audit tests the accuracy of the information in the Annual Report.

The management information Watercare collects shows that levels of customer satisfaction have generally improved since customer service operations began. In some cases where performance issues were identified, such as slowness in reading meters, action has been taken or is being planned to address those performance issues. These observations lead us to consider that Watercare is well placed to continue to improve its customer service operations.

Currently, some customers pay for wastewater through their council rates. From 1 July 2012, all customers will be directly charged for wastewater. Introducing new tariff levels and new bills to customers will present a significant customer service challenge for Watercare. This challenge is noted in its Statement of Corporate Intent for 2011-14.

Overall, we consider that Watercare has responded well to its new customer service role so far. We were pleased to note that customer services have been improving and that Watercare appeared to address problems quickly and make ongoing improvements when it identified performance issues.

page top