E Source Review of North American Electric and Gas Company
Websites: History and Methodology
Since 2002, E Source has been benchmarking utility websites to gauge how successful they are in serving residential customers. Our study has quickly become the industry standard for assessing website improvements as they relate to customers’ contact preferences. Here’s a summary of our previous studies:
- In the first review of North American utility websites in 2002 (PDF), we only evaluated public website content.
- In 2005 (PDF), the review was expanded to include secure features, and about 30 percent of utilities in North America provided E Source with secure online access to their sites so that we could conduct our research.
- In 2007 (PDF), half of the features we evaluated were secure online self-service options, and 50 percent of US and Canadian utilities provided the E Source team with secure access to their sites during the research period.
- In 2009 (PDF), more than half the companies we reviewed provided us with account access. The review focused more than ever on self-service functions and also, for the first time, we measured how well utility websites performed on mobile devices.
- In 2011, 72 percent of the companies we reviewed provided us with account access. The review focused even more on self-service functions and one-third of the review was conducted using mobile devices.
The E Source review is based on actual residential customer website use and feedback. It includes the largest gas and electric companies in US and Canada, plus a representative set of small and midsize utilities. To ensure that we get a good overall sense of how customer-friendly your site is, multiple residential reviewers visit each site. However, each one of the functions or features is evaluated by a single designated reviewer. The benchmark gives equal weighting to functionality and usability, and the usability of a given function or feature is compared against best practices gleaned from all types of company websites, not just from utility websites. Shown below is a graph from the 2011 Review of North American Electric and Gas Company Websites that highlights the usability and functionality ratings for all of the companies included in the review.
Our reviewers are asked to assess the overall experience they have at each web site, including their use of secure-access self-service options. (E Source works directly with each utility to obtain secure access to the utility web site to enable this in-depth evaluation. Accounts are only used with the permission of the account holder; no transactions are completed, and all information provided is managed with strict confidentiality.) It usually takes our reviewers 30 minutes to complete their evaluation of a given feature or function; across the five-month review period, they typically spend a couple of days visiting each website.
For the specific feature benchmarks, each feature is reviewed by a single individual. (The exception is when multiple reviewers are asked to examine the same feature at the same site for the purposes of quality assurance.)
The E Source benchmark study provides a great deal more information than an audit of features and functions at the utility website. However, the results aren’t as comprehensive as feedback from usability testing, in which companies observe multiple customers as they try to complete the same task at a website.
Q: How did E Source select the features and functions that were included in the review?
A: The choice of features and functions was based on market research we updated in 2013, in which we asked customers what they want to find and use at their utility website. We also conducted a market survey of thought leaders in the utility industry to help us select the final features and functions included in the review.
Q: When will the website benchmark rankings be available?
A: The rankings will be announced and the final report will be available by the end of 2013.
If you would like information about participating in the next website benchmark study, please submit your name and e-mail address.
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