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Staying ahead of the curve – insights unlock value in the new Water Retail Market

The new water retail market is open for business; on the 1 April this year it became possible for businesses in England to choose which company they would like to supply their retail water services.

The move had been in the pipeline since 2011, when the government set plans for a new competitive market outlined in the Water for Life White Paper. With a focus on improving customer service, promoting protection of the environment and increasing competition in the industry, it is one of the most significant changes the industry has faced, bringing with it a range of new challenges.

The open retail water market will work much in the same way as other utility services, with wider utility markets now also being able to offer water services.  It is believed this will deliver around £200 million of overall benefit to customers and the UK economy by separating out retail services from wholesale activities.

What does this mean?

In simple terms it means that for an additional 1.2 million eligible businesses and non household customers they now have a choice – the customers are in the driving seat.

Customers can decide who they would like to provide their water, their wastewater services, or both. They can change at any time, for any reason, without penalty, and all this can happen in less than a month.

For licensed water retailers it means they are now competing against each other and have the freedom to tailor services and packages for customers to contend in the open market. The market will provide growth opportunities for existing regional water companies, and brand new companies. Initial investment will be required to set up independent retail businesses, ensuring fair competition, and once established driving a return on investment will be a key focus.

Insights will unlock value

The open retail market is a new market; with that comes limited transactional history or operational trading knowledge. There are no clear market leaders and the market is open to competition.

The good news is willingly engaging with and understanding customers’ and stakeholders’ needs and concerns could be a key differentiator in a new competitive market and will provide those forward thinking water retail companies with a competitive edge.

Staying ahead of the curve

The ability to benchmark, track and evaluate service through customer engagement will deliver a significant return on investment for water retailers.

For over two decades, our team at Explain Market Research have been innovating, developing and delivering research programmes in the utility sector, our main objective always being to deliver actionable insights for our clients. Read our case studies for some great examples of our work in the sector.

We have developed innovative methodologies to deliver insights in a competitive market. We specialise in engaging with customers including embedding behavioural research, trust and confidence, and the engagement of vulnerable and hard to reach customers into our utility sector research projects.

Research and engagement will enable water retail businesses to get closer to their customers to identify the issues they are experiencing at any given time and co-creating to find solutions that improve their experience.

Research will also be important to understand the ideal balance between price and service to enable retailers to shape their service offering. Measuring and tracking customer experience as well as customer advocacy will allow retailers to measure performance as well as areas for service improvement, enabling continuous improvement over time and high levels of customer retention for getting it right.

Contact us at Explain Market Research today to find out more about the solutions we offer. Take a look at our accompanying infographic below.

Water Retail Market Infographic V3

 


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Explain Market Research launches new research solution to deliver innovation

Originally developed in 2010, Explain’s innovative online community platform has undergone a substantial upgrade to better meet the needs of clients and end users.

Organisations in a range of sectors, including utilities, healthcare and manufacturing, have chosen our platform as it provides a unique and extremely cost-effective method of research and engagement to suit any budget.

An online community in the simplest form is a form of social and digital engagement, sometimes referred to as an online panel; they offer a bespoke, members-only digital space in which to directly engage ‘in the moment’ with a desired audience – for example, customers, stakeholders, or internal staff. Communities are currently being used to monitor perceptions of customer service, develop new products, and engage with vulnerable and ‘hard to reach’ consumer groups.

Along with the build of each community, Explain provide an ongoing management and moderation service which sees users encouraged to actively participate in conversation, providing a qualitative two way conversation. Views and opinions are gathered through discussion threads, polls and online surveys, with fresh and relevant content uploaded frequently to ensure high levels of engagement, providing a 360 degree view from customers.

Our online communities range in scale and scope, with each community individually designed to deliver the needs of clients. We currently host and manage online communities ranging from bespoke projects with 50 members, running for a limited time to deliver immediate insights, to long term strategic models with thousands of members, that will run over a number of years as an engagement tool.

The recently launched Version 3 of the platform offers enhanced design and media capabilities, along with greater usability to improve user experience for members.

Kim Davis, Explain Market Research’s Managing Director commented “Our newest release has stimulated interest from those who see research as an ongoing investment in product and service refinement. Any industry that is serious about stakeholder engagement should consider an online community, as an extremely cost-effective way to carry out ongoing research.  It breaks down barriers such as location, accessibility and timing. We are seeing a significant shift towards this type of research, particularly in regulatory environments, to demonstrate consistent engagement, and also in manufacturing for product innovation and development.”

Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Explain has provided full-service market research solutions to a range of organisations for over two decades, with specialist knowledge and expertise in the utilities, healthcare and financial services sectors. Delivering innovative insights is at the forefront of our culture. Our online communities are part of a wider suite of innovative solutions to research and engagement, which also includes mobile app surveys, collecting ‘in the moment’ data and insights.

With a shift towards ongoing and digital research, to demonstrate consistent engagement, we continue to work with clients to find solutions to their needs, and are seeing a significant increase in the uptake of online communities as a research tool.

Take a look at our infographic below and get in touch to understand how your organisation will benefit from an online community.

communities infographic


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Ofwat recognise Explain’s knowledge in vulnerable and ‘hard to reach’ customer research

Research with customers living in vulnerable circumstances and other ‘hard to reach’ groups is a requirement that more and more insight and market research managers are having to address as part of their roles. Not only are regulators applying pressure on organisations to demonstrate that they are inclusive, but there is huge value for businesses to be more effective in their engagement with those who are utilising services inefficiently.

Explain Market Research has developed methodologies to engage with vulnerable and hard to reach customers, particularly within the utilities sector – a sector which is at the forefront of innovation in identifying, engaging and effectively communicating with hard to reach customers.

Regulator Ofwat urged the water industry to consider how they are interacting with vulnerable and hard to reach customers, and set out examples of how water companies should consider the expectations of what good service looks like to these customers.

Ofwat recently published our recommendations on engaging with vulnerable and hard to reach customers on their website.

Our team at Explain Research has extensive knowledge and experience in the utilities sector, having conducted research programmes on behalf of water and electricity organisations for nearly two decades, and have developed tips for engaging with vulnerable customers. See our infographic below to learn more.

Our approach is tried and tested and is embedded in our research methodologies. We are delivering key insights to our clients within the water and electricity industries, and are continuously looking at innovative ways to continue to engage with vulnerable and hard to reach customers.

For further information, please contact us today to find out more.


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Why using behavioural research can provide greater returns on your marketing spend

For many years businesses have segmented their audiences based on socio-demographics, or firmographics where they are interested in companies. These are very useful and powerful ways to slice and dice data to then formulate engagement tactics to meet the assumed needs of these groups based on what this data tells us.

For example, how much a person earns will give you an idea if they could afford your product, or if they’re a business, having greater than a certain turnover may indicate they are in the market to buy your service.

But what about going one step further? What if you were to gain deeper insight into the actual behaviours of your potential customers? Just because someone can afford your product doesn’t mean they’ll purchase it. But if you add another dimension to this data in the form of personal attitudes and behaviours, this could create a much richer picture to aid your product development, messaging and targeting – and ultimately increase revenue into your business.

For example, within the health industry, gyms can target women who are 25-40 who are likely to earn over £25,000, within a given area, with a one week free trial promotion focused on weight loss. It is more than likely this will generate some sort of return in terms of uptake, particularly around New Year. But there is opportunity for these gyms to truly understand more behavioural traits of these ladies such as:

  • the main drivers behind why women join a gym in the first place
  • the feelings that these women have before joining a gym
  • what has prevented them from joining a gym in the past
  • what behaviours they have before, during and after a session at the gym
  • the key reasons for not being able to attend a session
  • the drivers behind cancelling memberships

With this more detailed dimension, gyms can reshape their service, re-define their messaging and introduce promotional marketing to existing members to prevent churn – therefore extending the lifetime value of their customers!

Behavioural research is much more complex than research of opinions, as it requires an approach which allows the researcher to get under the skin of the audience and to identify thoughts, feelings, emotions and the actions of an individual as a consequence of these. These are usually more deeply rooted and not easy to uncover using traditional surveys.

Our expert team utilise a range of methodologies that allow us to pull together a rich picture of your customer and stakeholder types. We use qualitative approaches for collecting this type of insight that could include a mix of the following methodologies:

There are many reasons why you should consider behavioural research – here are our top five:

  1. It will provide you with another dimension and help you better understand your audience
  2. It will help form more engaging communications resulting in better returns  
  3. Products and services can be enhanced to better meet the needs of your customers
  4. You can identify weak spots in your service to address and therefore increase your customer lifetime values
  5. You will gain a competitive edge

Contact the Explain team today to find out more about the best approach for you. Please feel free to save and share our accompanying infographic.

behaviour-research-infographic-v1


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Five reasons why you should understand your organisation’s customer and brand loyalty scores

We’ve all heard or read how important brand and customer loyalty is to a business – there aren’t many business professionals who will argue against that!

However there are some organisations that don’t measure or understand these. Across all sectors, whether you are large or small, a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) provider, insight into your customer and brand loyalty will provide you with a competitive edge and add huge value to your organisation.

Here are our top five reasons why you should measure and gain insight into your organisation’s brand loyalty:

  1. It saves money in the long run – If an organisation has low brand loyalty, it has to work harder at finding new business to replace what it is losing, and therefore must spend more to achieve this. Gaining a thorough understanding of loyalty allows organisations to put the right strategies in place to retain customers.
  1. Smarter marketing – There will be a number of factors that attribute to the way your customers feel about your brand. Identifying what these factors are allows you to focus on and ultimately influence these in a positive way.
  1. Higher customer lifetime value – The higher the brand loyalty an organisation has, the higher the value of its customers, with customers staying with them and spending more over time.
  1. Higher profits – If a brand has higher loyalty, price sensitivity decreases and willingness to pay increases. Gaining an understanding of this could be an opportunity to review prices to fit with loyalty levels to get the most from the brand value.
  1. Increases new business – Loyal customers are a great sales and marketing channel. We all know the power of social media and word of mouth marketing, and an individual who is loyal to a brand will have a higher propensity to recommend it to friends and family. Finding out who these customers are and how to influence these groups to your organisation’s advantage will provide a powerful source of new business.

Having an understanding of your current levels of brand and customer loyalty and what influences these factors can be achieved using all sorts of research methodologies.

Contact us at Explain Market Research today to find out more about the research and engagement solutions we offer, including our Trust and Confidence Evaluation Tool.

customer-and-brand-loyalty-infographic-v2

 


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A guide to market research – DIY or outsource to a specialist agency?

Company budgets are always under review and managers are always under pressure to make savings, so when it comes to market research is this something that can be carried out by your own internal resource, or do you need a market research agency that specialises in this discipline to deliver this for you?

There are times when research does lend itself to being carried out externally and times when this can be carried out well internally. However, organisations do have to be careful that in their efforts to save money, it doesn’t cost the business money in the long run! Poorly constructed research can also have an impact on the public’s perception of your business, as research is another form of engagement and will leave a lasting impression on your customers and stakeholders.

Before deciding which way to go, there are a number of important factors which should be considered:

  1. In-house capability

You may not think it takes a genius to construct a survey, however experience alongside strategic and logical thinking are required in order to get the most from any research. A strategic mindset will help establish what you are trying to achieve from your survey, while logic is needed to map out the questionnaire journey, question type and determine if the outputs will meet your objectives. This may sound obvious, however it’s amazing how many surveys end up going out the door, yet the results don’t meet the initial research objectives!

A quick short online survey for example can usually be constructed by someone internally and is generally more cost effective to do so, using the various tools that are available across the internet. However, for more complex work which has high importance for your business, think carefully before using anyone who hasn’t got the experience to do this.

  1. In-house resource

If you require a methodology that involves 1,100 completed on-street or telephone surveys then carrying this out internally usually isn’t an option! This is obvious to outsource due to the number of fieldworkers that would be required and the technical capability required for telephone interviewing, such as call recording.

There are methodologies that in theory could be delivered by an internal team, such as focus groups. However it is vital that the team is proficient in focus group moderation, discussion guide creation and thematic analysis. There should also be enough moderators to handle a number of groups to be representative of the base that you are researching.

The administration and organisation of a focus group should not be overlooked.  As part of a package that a research agency offers, the administration and logistics of recruitment and session organisation are also included – this is time consuming and well thought through in terms of ideal venues, room sizes, location, equipment and so forth.  Therefore if your organisation does not have the resource to do this, then this is also an added value benefit.

  1. Market Research Society (MRS) guidelines

Most research agencies are MRS partners or members and will adhere to the guidelines set out by the MRS. These are professional standards which are put in place to ensure that research is delivered to the highest standard in terms of ethical practices, commercial value and reliability.

Research agencies often send their staff on Market Research Society courses to enhance their professional development, so that they bring more to their clients in terms of innovation and best practice.

  1. Independent research

When outsourcing to a research agency, bias is less of a concern than it would be if it was carried out by an internal team or person. Research by a third party will be carried out and delivered independently, which will impact on respondents’ openness to questions during fieldwork.

Concern of a biased approach to analysis and delivery of results is also removed when outsourcing to a specialist agency, as there is no danger of political agenda or emotional attachment to the outputs.

  1. Quality and reliability

Depending on resource available and the capability of staff within the organisation, quality and reliability of findings should be considered. You may have a team of highly trained and experienced market research specialists, however if you don’t these factors may be at risk. The importance and influence of the outputs and complexity of the research will provide a good indication as to whether your project should be outsourced to an agency who can guarantee high quality work and robust results.

Consider your options carefully, weigh up the risks and if you believe research is worth doing – it’s worth doing correctly.

Contact us today to find out more about the research and engagement solutions we offer at Explain.

diy-or-outsource-infographic-v2

 


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Engaging with the vulnerable and hard to reach

Vulnerable customer and ‘hard to reach’ research is a requirement that more and more insight and market research managers are having to address as part of their roles. Not only are regulators keen for organisations to demonstrate that they are inclusive, but there is huge value in businesses being more effective in their engagement with those who are in debt or utilising services inefficiently.

Vulnerable customers are often identified as those with long or short term illness, those living with disabilities or in poverty, and also customers who are elderly.

Hard to reach groups will differ depending on the organisation and the products and services which are offered, but can include:

  1. Non-English speakers
  2. Those who are in severe debt
  3. Those who have suffered a mental illness or struggle socially
  4. Individuals who have a drug or alcohol addiction
  5. Younger people who are not in education or employment
  6. Elderly who live alone and don’t have family or friends

There are many reasons why it is important for organisations to be able to reach out to audiences that can be more difficult to engage with. This can be from a socially responsible point of view, or to reduce inefficiencies. However, as the term suggests – ‘hard to reach’ is exactly that, so having the right approach is vital.

So how can an organisation grow relationships with those where there are perhaps more barriers in place that will allow them to do this?

As organisations are placing more importance on engaging with these audiences we have become experts in delivering research programmes that provide great insight into these key groups.

As every organisation is different and each of these groups are so very diverse, a one size fits all approach will not work in research. Careful thought and consideration as to how these groups can be engaged with is crucial. Below are just three important factors which need to be deliberated when putting in place research and engagement with hard to reach and vulnerable groups:

  1. Language

For example, there is little point in using technical jargon or business speak when engaging with a group of 16 year olds. This may seem obvious, however it is surprising how difficult it is to get a specific point across without making use of industry specific terms. This is very common in the healthcare sector for instance. We recently carried out research which found that although the terms ‘Primary Care’ and ‘Secondary Care’ are commonly used terms across the NHS, only 26% of the sample we spoke to actually understood the term  ‘Primary Care’.  And this isn’t just the hard to reach groups either, this is the general public.

  1. Tone

Tone is different to language, as it goes beyond the actual words used in any communications, whether a discussion guide, questionnaire, online survey or promotional material used to engage for the research. Tone should be adopted for the audience – a formal approach will not encourage those who are young to participate in any research, as this can be intimidating. Having a moderator in place who is able to adapt to the audience is vital. For questionnaires, more visuals can be used. There are lots of creative ways in which you can communicate with your respondents, to make them feel at ease and more willing to open up and participate.

  1. Methodology and Selection

Usually a methodology is largely selected on the type of insight that is required, however carrying out telephone interviews or on-street surveys as you require a quantitative analysis will gain little return with a disengaged group, while trying to recruit on-street to get people who have issues socially to come along to a focus group at a public space such as a hotel will not be successful either.  Methods such attending pre-arranged groups or community sessions are an extremely useful way to engage with the hard to reach. Not only are you going to them, they are also in their own environment so will feel naturally more comfortable and more willing to participate. Offering experiences is also a fantastic way to encourage some hard to reach groups to participate in research. Activity days that will provide them with some value and an enjoyable experience will not only encourage them as respondents to attend, but also will make individuals feel more at ease and start to participate more with a skilled moderator. Online communities which already have a specific audience type are a great way to engage with those certain groups. There are online communities available which specialise in certain profile types; for example, an online community made up of people who have a disability, or who care for those who do, is an excellent way to carry out a range of qualitative or quantitative research.

Our team at Explain Market Research are experts at putting in place research programmes with vulnerable customers and those who are hard to reach.

Contact us today to find out more.

vulnerable-and-hard-to-reach-infographic