Utility companies in hot water over email problems

Thames Water has had to pay customers £60,000 in compensation after it discovered an unmanned inbox containing thousands of emailed complaints and comments.

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Thames Water has had to pay customers £60,000 in compensation after it discovered an unmanned inbox containing thousands of emailed complaints and comments.

It was one of a number of water companies identified by Ofwat as not meeting industry performance standards due to email-related issues.

According to Ofwat’s latest report, ‘Service and delivery – performance of water companies in England and Wales 2009-10’, Thames Water reported to the regulator that it had discovered an email inbox containing nearly 4,000 unread customer emails. The emails dated as far back as 31 March 2003.

“We have paid out a total of £60,000 to compensate the 1,800 people we let down and we are currently investing a further £1.2 million to improve our service further,” a spokesperson for Thames water said.

The company paid out £40 to 1,200 customers and £20 to 600 customers.

The nature of the email problem was that messages were sent to an incorrect email address, starting with “customerfeedback”, instead of “customer.feedback”. Rather than bouncing back to customers, the emails sent to the wrong address ended up in an inbox “we were not aware of”, Thames Water said.

The problem was only discovered when a member of staff sent an email to the wrong address and did not receive a reply, which led to a full investigation and the discovery of the inbox.

However, the water company said that the number of unread emails was small compared with the 4,000 contacts it gets from customers each day. 

Ofwat said that Thames Water had proposed a package of measures to improve its service, including providing enhanced online facilities and enhanced training for frontline customer service staff.

Meanwhile, Severn Trent Water was another company that was highlighted in the Ofwat report for its email-related failings.

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