Water utility customer satisfaction increasing, despite rising bills

May 11, 2023
J.D. Power’s annual Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study finds that water utilities’ customers are more satisfied than last year, even though average months bills had risen.

J.D. Power released its 2023 U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, funding that overall customer satisfaction with residential water utilities is up 3 points (on a 1,000 point scale), even as average monthly bills have increased 6% during the past year.

The trend of rising satisfaction runs counter to that of declining satisfaction occurring among gas and electric utilities.

“With monthly rates continuing to rise and the water supply running dangerously low in many parts of the country, there has never been a more critical time for water utilities to proactively communicate with their customers about what they are doing to protect our drinking water today and into the future,” said Andrew Heath, senior director of utilities intelligence at J.D. Power. “Many water utilities have heard that message loud and clear and are now setting the standard for effective customer outreach and communication. Along the way, they are also managing to buck the trend of declining customer satisfaction that we have seen in other utilities in this inflationary environment.”

Some key findings of the 2023 study include:

Customer satisfaction rises with price increases: Overall customer satisfaction with residential water utilities is 734, up 3 points from last year’s study. The improvement comes despite a $5.80 (6%) increase in the average monthly bill amount over 2022. Water usage has been roughly flat compared with last year.

Communications, customer service drive customer satisfaction: This year’s increase in customer satisfaction is driven largely by improvements in communications, which have risen 7 points from last year, and customer service, which has increased 6 points over last year. The communications factor continues to show improvement across each wave of the study, suggesting that utilities are proactively reaching out to customers throughout the year to provide updates on pricing, safety and supply issues.

Fragility of the underlying resource in the spotlight: Even as dangerously low water levels in the Colorado River system have spurred the federal government to propose cutting water allotments in several states, 44% of utility customers perceive their utility is properly ensuring the future water supply. That sentiment is consistent across states supplied by the Colorado River as well as in those that are not.

Study rankings

The study measures customer satisfaction with water utilities in eight geographic regions. Highest-ranked utilities and scores, by region, are as follows:

  • Midwest Large: Illinois American Water (781) (for a fourth consecutive year)
  • Midwest Midsize: Aqua (752) (for a second consecutive year)
  • Northeast Large: NYC Environmental Protection (784) (for a second consecutive year)
  • Northeast Midsize: Boston Water and Sewer Commission (761) (for a second consecutive year)
  • South Large: Miami-Dade County (786) (for a second consecutive year)
  • South Midsize: Cobb County Water System (791)
  • West Large: California Water Service (797)
  • West Midsize: Irvine Ranch Water District (766) (for a second consecutive year)

The U.S. Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, now in its eighth year, measures satisfaction among residential customers of 92 water utilities that deliver water to populations of at least 400,000 and is reported in four geographic regions and two size categories: Midwest Large; Midwest Midsize; Northeast Large; Northeast Midsize; South Large; South Midsize; West Large; and West Midsize.

Overall satisfaction is measured by examining 33 attributes in six factors (listed in order of importance): quality and reliability; price; conservation; billing and payment; communications; and customer service. The study is based on the responses of 36,833 residential water utility customers and was conducted in four waves from June 2022 through March 2023.