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Water utility communications improved customer trust, AWWA survey finds

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A water utility that communicates frequently will have greater trust from its customers and they will be more than three times likely to report their tap water’s safety has improved, was the finding of a recent survey conducted on behalf of the American Water Works Association (AWWA).

The Public Perceptions of Tap Water survey, conducted by business intelligence firm Morning Consult in May, included responses from more than 2,000 adults served by water utilities across the U.S. 

The survey found that 38% of respondents recalled receiving communication, such as email, from their water utility in the last year. Water utility customers who received communications were also more satisfied with the quality of their tap water and the relationship with the utility, the survey found. Email was also the most preferred method of communication by most customers.

For customers who did not recall receiving communications from their water utility in 2022, just 11% indicated that their tap water quality has improved. 

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“The one thing that’s clear year-over-year from the Public Perceptions of Tap Water survey is that a utility that communicates frequently will have greater trust from its customers and in its community,” said AWWA CEO David LaFrance in a statement. “It’s also clear that trust is not equal across all demographics, so there’s still work to do to assure high levels of trust with all customers. Getting there requires not only first-rate communications, but a relentless focus on providing excellent water quality and services to everyone.”

The surveyed water customers who recall receiving utility communication were 36% more likely to be aware of their water utility’s efforts to improve water quality and know their tap water meets or exceeds federal or state requirements.

One-third of adults surveyed recall receiving communication from their water utility in the past year about recommendations on how to conserve water and how to save money on their water bill. Half of adults received communication through letter mail and one-third received email. Adults 18-44 were more likely than adults over 45 to prefer hearing from their water utility about these issues through social media. 

When it comes to demographics, the survey found that variables such as income, gender, race, and region all had “significant explanatory power” regarding the safety of water at the faucet. For instance, Hispanic adults across the U.S. expressed a five-percentage point decline since June 2022 and a  17-percentage point decrease since June 2020 in terms of considering their tap water to be safe. No reasoning was stated for the decline.

The survey also found that men were more likely than women to report the quality of water at the faucet is excellent or good. Men were nearly twice as likely as women to say their tap water quality has improved. 

Additionally, adults in the south region reported lower tap water quality ratings than adults in other regions.

Lastly, adults with higher levels of income and higher levels of education were more likely to report feeling satisfied with the water at their faucet than adults with lower levels of income and education.

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