A decade ago the ‘Dublin Principles’ shifted global thinking towards treating water as an economic good. The concern was that overly supply-driven approaches had been financially unsustainable, and therefore failed to reduce the service gap. Accompanying this conceptual shift has been a wider move towards focusing on the customer's needs and preferences and their willingness to pay, and applying marketing techniques to meet those needs in a financially sustainable manner. Although regarded as a positive move, its success is heavily dependent on how well water utilities understand their customers. This paper examines existing literature on the determinants of customer willingness to use and pay for improved water services in developing countries. The contribution of past research to our understanding of the behaviour of customers, with regard to service level choice and payment for services, is critically analysed. Basing on this analysis, we develop and discuss a generic model of a water consumer's decision-making process. The model serves two purposes. First, it consolidates past research into a coherent framework to facilitate implementation of the marketing approach. Secondly, we use the model to identify critical customer information that water utility managers need to know in order to be customer-focused.

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