Accent MR Accent

Creating a Covid 19 Customer Panel for South East Water


At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic South East Water were aware that it would place financial pressure on an increasing number of households – not only those who were already in debt or struggling to pay their bills but also those who would previously have been classed their water bill as “affordable” but whose status would likely change as the pandemic continued. South East Water wanted to understand the financial impact of the pandemic and short and longer term support that  customers would require.


We developed a “Covid-19 Customer Panel” who we are following over the course of a year. This qualitative panel was designed to be representative of the SEW customer base in terms of pre-Covid affordability as well as region, age, lifestage, gender and social economic group. Within this structure we have households who were already in debt going into the pandemic and households who were struggling to pay their bills but managing to stay out of debt.

Our households complete video and paper-based tasks at regular intervals and once a month the households (parents, children, grandparents – the whole lot!) participate in a household zoom call with one of the Accent team. We have a consistent and small team working on this project so that our households talk to the same moderator at every stage – building a rapport and intimacy that has added to the depth of insight we’ve been able to gain.


Our participant households have also learned more about water and considered water in greater detail than they would in “normal life” which has led them to providing informed responses and suggestions to SEW on what needs to be developed and communicated to support a range of different households throughout the pandemic (and out of the other side – whenever that might be).

We have explored language and tone that will be most appropriate for different types of households (those new to debt/low income, those living with longer term affordability issues, those with high water usage) so that SEW can ensure their communications are effectively developed and broadcast through the most appropriate channels.

“This project is getting under the skin of customer attitudes in a situation for which there is no forecasting equivalent.”
Andy Clowes, South East Water