In just one day’s time, the non-household water market in England will open to competition. To those in the know, it may well seem remarkable, but there are many who still know very little about the changes that lie ahead.

In fact a recent survey by the water services regulator Ofwat found that only a third of organisations questioned were aware that the retail water market was opening in England this April. Indeed this was an increase on previous levels of awareness, which is either a good thing or an indictment of the sector’s engagement with its customers. Or possibly both.

“Readiness is an issue for the market as a whole,” said Johanna Dow, chief executive at Scottish Water's non-household arm Business Stream in a recent article published by Utility Week, adding: "In the coming weeks and months, we can expect to see the market data being well and truly stress-tested.”

Much has been done to ensure all participants are as prepared as they can possibly be while marketing initiatives such as the Open Water campaign are of course welcome and will help all concerned once the market opens. But as awareness increases, so expectations rise, placing even greater pressure upon an industry which will be grappling with an entirely new set of dynamics as the first businesses seek to switch – in a survey of members of the Major Energy Users Council, around one third indicated that they would do so either as soon as the market opens or shortly after.

And it is then that the real test will take place – market and customer data that is either incomplete or inaccurate will quickly be exposed, creating high potential for a rapid loss of confidence in the market as a whole, not just the major players.

It is a scenario that has played out time and again in the utility sector, and with so many customers already of the opinion that they pay too much for their water – 40 per cent of small business in the UK according to a survey carried out by Utilitywise in 2016 – retailers will need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to the issues that arise.

It is worth noting, of course, that there will be relatively small savings to be made, purely in terms of price, Ofwat allowing only an average 2.5 per cent net margin for retailers. This means retailers will need to differentiate in other ways to engage with new customers and build loyalty.

To do all of this, three things are of vital importance: a proactive approach, the right customer service processes and flexible software solutions for market and customer engagement. Having the most effective, tried-and-tested software systems in place will enable the retailer to deliver against customer expectations and the requirements for effective market interaction.