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In a recent event experienced by Anglian Water in the UK in March 2017, a tweet was picked up by local media outlet LincolnshireLive from resident Phil Scrafton who tweeted at Anglian Water: “No water for 20hrs, 1 week old baby needs feed, multiple calls to you yet still no bottled water. Why aren’t you looking?” The rather ponderous headline read: “Tesco out of water as hundreds STILL have no supply after 20 hours (including family with newborn)”.

9 days later however, reporting was much more benign. Under the headline “Angian [sic] Water promises £50 credit to Horncastle area customers”, the Horncastle News reported the offer of compensation. It stressed the engineering complexity of the issue encountered: a burst in a pipe under a river required the laying of a brand new pipe. It explained the efforts that the company had gone to: they had contacted farms and sent out tankers to ensure that their animals were unaffected; bottled water stations were set up; and the compensation letters were hand-delivered by employees. Owners of a village pub in the affected area praised Anglian Water’s response and said that locals were grateful for the company’s efforts and that it was unfair to blame them.

Another i2O client, Air Selangor, in Malaysia experienced a burst on a 205cm mains pipe which affected 286,000 households and businesses in Kuala Lumpur just last week. The Star Online reported that Air Selangor employees were helping carry pails of water for residents from tankers provided by the utility to homes, concentrating particularly on difficulties experienced by the elderly. The Head of Corporate Communications was on hand to explain that water tankers were also sent to hospitals and dialysis centres irrespective of whether they were needed as the utility did not want to take any chances.

Happily, i2O solutions help its clients to reduce the number of bursts and to manage reduced availability of supply in the teeth of the challenges they face, helping them to meet customers’ increasing expectations.  But problems still arise, with increasing population size and urbanisation, ageing network infrastructure, more extreme weather events, ageing workforce, and difficulty in increasing revenue or accessing capital.  When they do, there are customers to be dealt with.  They rightly expect higher levels of service to match those they experience from other industries, and they have tools at their disposal to share their thoughts, accompanied by images, that much more quickly cause much more negative publicity than was historically possible before the widespread use of social media.

When problems do arise, it seems that you should follow the rules set out in the playbook for best practice incident management which include:

  • Fix the problem as quickly as you can
  • Explain the problem
  • Be seen to fix the problem as quickly as you can
  • Be seen to understand the challenges people and businesses face
  • Be seen to help them with these challenges
  • In a personalised way
  • Overdoing it is better than undercooking it
  • Manage expectations about when supply can be restored
  • Compensate people for the failure to deliver the service they expect and pay for