Customers immersed into water research

A group of consumers in Manchester have been dipping their toe into an innovative new kind of market research.

United Utilities has been giving a selection of its customers an “immersive” experience in a bid to understand the issues that are most important to them.

The experiences included seeing how a city like Copenhagen is dealing with flooding, and a trip to a supermarket with empty bottled water shelves during a water outage.

Ken Dillon is Customer Research Manager at United Utilities and he explained the thinking behind the immersive sessions: “We are currently building our investment plan for the period 2020 to 2025 and it is really important this is shaped by what our customers think. So we wanted to come up with an engaging way of canvassing their views. 

“The resilience of our water network and managing our catchment land, the gathering ground for water supplies, can be difficult subjects to explain in a traditional focus group session, so we wanted to bring the issues alive in a way that people could relate to.

“That included asking our customers to read mocked up newspapers with headlines about a water crisis or to simulate showering rain on a plastic cow! To their credit, the customers really got involved and seemed to enjoy the experience.”

The immersive sessions are the latest tool in a programme of consumer research by the water company.  United Utilities has recently signed up a group of over 7,300 volunteer customers from different communities across the North West to give their feedback via an online community panel.  They have been asked to comment on a range of issues such as affordability, investment and special services for vulnerable people.

Since 2015 the company has run over 30 customer research studies across the region to ensure it properly understands customer needs and priorities.

Ken added: “United Utilities is committed to gaining a thorough understanding of the issues that are most important to our customers.  It’s this that will form the basis of our future investment plans.”