How Changing Customer Expectations Affect Utilities

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January E News

Utility Web Site Expectations: Keeping an Eye on the Horizon

Published: January 20, 2010
Florence Connally

On-demand, on-the-go, and 3-D are all the rage according to the reports coming out of the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show that just wrapped up in Las Vegas. Streaming video to TVs and tablet computers may not seem relevant to the utility industry, but the effect the technology has on customers is.

As devices that enable on-demand service and mobile computing become more pervasive, more consumers become accustomed to an on-demand lifestyle. They expect to find information as they need it and when they want it. There is no doubt that customers will seek information, whatever it may be, from their energy service providers. And when they do, you’d better be prepared. Unfortunately, just when you think you know what your residential customers want, they change their minds and want more.

Residential expectations for the utility web site and its offerings are constantly evolving. If one of your goals for 2010 is to get more customers to your web site, there are several areas where utility offerings are not matching up with consumer expectations. Addressing these three areas and still providing the original expectations of billing and payment services will make your web site current and relevant.

Online outage/gas leak updates. When there is no power, the number-one question customers have is: When will my power come back on? And more customers expect to find this information through the utility web site. Based on E Source market research, residential consumers rank outage and gas leak updates as the third most expected information to be found on a utility web site. However, in reality, only 43 percent of utility web sites evaluated in our 2009 Review of North American Electric and Gas Company Web Sites provide this information. With several utilities reporting record web site visits during major outage events, online outage/gas leak updates will not only satisfy customer demand for much-needed information but serve as an introduction to the utility’s online service capabilities.

Google sitelinks. Residential customers love the ease of navigating the utility’s web site directly from the Google search results page through sitelinks, which are links displayed under the first search result that connect to specific pages within a web site. However, allowing customers to bypass the home page also means that care needs to be taken to ensure that marketing messages normally displayed on the home page are still conveyed to those who now skip directly to the desired page. Also, for customers who navigate through the web site traditionally, clear and direct navigation paths from one page to another still need to be integrated into the web design.

Energy usage information. As billing and payment functions become expected on the utility web site, more consumers also want the utility to help them better understand their energy use and the ways they can save energy and money. Recent studies indicate that consumers who access their usage data online save more energy than those who don’t. Currently, only 46 percent of utilities offer this information online. As more utilities deploy smart meters, we expect more personalized energy usage offerings to be available online.

Offering updates about outages, employing Google sitelinks, and providing energy usage information are just three of the new twists and turns utilities must navigate to provide their residential consumers with the online experience they expect. Keeping an eye on these three trends can help you meet your goals for 2010 and beyond.

About the Author

Florence Connally

Florence Connally, a research manager at E Source, investigates and reports on e-business, customer service, and payment and billing topics. Since 2005, she has managed the research for the utility web site review benchmark studies. She has also researched topics in the areas of power quality, distribution company management, metering, and energy information services.

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