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Water Engineering and Development Centre

Resource details

Customer relations management: part A - introduction of urban water and sewage authorities in developing countries

Author(s): Coates, Sue  |  Sansom, Kevin  |  Kayaga, Sam

Publisher: LSHTM | WEDC
Place of publication: London and Loughborough
Year: 2001

Series: WELL Studies in Water, Sanitation and Environmental Health Task 514/A
Collection(s): WELL


This study is about customer relations management (CRM) in water and sewerage utilities. It introduces the principles of CRM and presents case studies of two utilities to illustrate customer care. In the report, vignettes in grey boxes are used to explain key CRM principles.

The main principles introduced are:

Customer orientation and its relationship with demand responsiveness. The idea of 'customer' is still alien in developing countries and yet should be relevant, as there are a variety of vendors in the water sector offering competition to utilities.

The need to institutionalise customer care through service oriented leadership is emphasised as a first step towards CRM. The characteristics of service-oriented leaders are discussed.

Reasons for businesses to integrate CRM into their business strategy are given. These reasons when implemented should lead to satisfied and loyal utility customers.

The basic concepts upon which CRM is founded are introduced. These are identifying the customer; understanding consumer behaviour; understanding the customer value chain; and the internal customer and interdepartmental collaboration.

For CRM to work, a customer-focused philosophy encapsulated in the corporate mission is desirable. CRM objectives need to be set which ideally should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely), and a CRM implementation strategy devised.

The qualities of a good job description are given and the importance of customer surveys underlined. Different survey methods are described. Suggestions on types of questions to ask are given and include a list of typical questions for the water sector. The role of customer committees, charters and service agreements is explained and an explanation given of why water utilities need to develop communication strategies.

In the second part of the report, the case studies are presented. Two contrasting studies were chosen. One in Uganda (a utility with a national remit) and one in India (a city water utility). The National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NSWC) provides water and sewerage to urban centres in Uganda on a commercial basis. It has a problem with unaccounted-for-water and has debt arrears. Though institutional measures had been put in place to strengthen capacity in the early 90s, this situation continued to get worse.

In 1998, a situational analysis was undertaken following a management change. A number of problems were identified of which poor customer relations was one. The report describes how NSWC has been tackling this problem since a task force on customer care was instituted in 1999. A brainstorming seminar with different levels of staff was organised which led to the creation of a customer care section. Complaints management was streamlined with action taken on complaints to encourage a steady flow of feedback. Draft guidelines for common complaints were drawn. Customer care seminars were held and fliers with critical information published. As a result of these changes, complaints are down. Customer satisfaction surveys were held to gain feedback. The report concludes that through a change management programme, NSWC customer care improved, and the number of complaints fell and continues to do so. However, challenges remain, the main one being the adoption of a customer orientated business philosophy.

Case studies  |  Customer care  |  Kampala  |  Mysore  |  Performance indicators  |  Service levels