Apps, websites cause utility growing pains, says J.D. Power

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Utilities are going mobile, with all large electric utilities and most large natural gas utilities now providing a mobile-enabled website or app.

However, many utilities still struggle with website design and functionality, failing to provide content that is easy to access via mobile, according to the J.D. Power 2016 Utility Website Evaluation Study.

The study, now in its fifth year, is based on a combined ranking of evaluations collected across mobile websites/apps and desktop/laptop/tablet (desktop) devices. The study explores how easy it is to use a utility’s website by examining 12 tasks based on the type of utility: set up an online account; account log in; view consumption history; review account information; make a payment; research energy saving information; update service; report power outages; view outages; locate contact information; perform account and profile maintenance; and locate gas leak information.

The study finds that the percentage of large utilities offering a mobile channel for their customers either through a mobile-enabled website or mobile app has increased dramatically to 92 percent in 2016 from 72 percent in 2014, and satisfaction with ease of use has improved to 409 (on a 500-point scale) from 405.

Of the 65 U.S. electric and natural gas utilities included in the study, 59 of them currently offer a mobile solution. While many of the utilities have adapted to responsive design for their website—one where the Web content adjusts to various screen sizes—customers are experiencing problems accessing content due to design and functionality challenges with the site.

Based on findings of J.D. Power’s utility syndicated studies, 30 percent of customers in the 2016 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study indicate experiencing one or more issues when using their mobile phone with their utility’s website or app. Among customers experiencing one or more issues, 16 percent indicate that the information was not accessible or froze, and 12 percent indicate that the information was not provided on electric utility sites and 18 percent say the same about natural gas mobile sites or apps. The volume of problems experienced by customers is most likely driven by the lack of content or the inability of customers to find content, as opposed to issues with the website’s technology.

“Many utilities have deployed responsive design technology on their mobile websites to deliver content that automatically fits on the various screen sizes of mobile devices,” said Andrew Heath, senior director of the energy practice at J.D. Power. “However, it’s not enough to just implement responsive design without also designing the website content customers will ultimately experience on their mobile device.”

According to Heath, while the UWES evaluates the most popular transactions on a utility website, “utilities need to understand that content is king and customers expect to conduct the same interactions on their mobile device as they do using a desktop.”

Following are some of the key findings of the 2016 study:

·      Ease of Use Performance: Among the utility companies included in the study, AEP, Alabama Power and FirstEnergy perform particularly well in overall ease of use of utility websites.

·      Focus on Account Access: Satisfaction scores for the review account information task is a strong predictor of satisfaction among customers with electronic billing in the residential electric and gas syndicated studies.

·      Utility Website Used for Emergency Information: A growing number of customers use a utility website in emergency situations to report an outage, view current outage information or find details of a gas leak. However, it takes more than two minutes, on average, to find the relevant information on the site.

·      Likelihood to Reuse Utility Website: Among study brands in the top quartile (scores of 426-441), 56 percent of customers say they “definitely will” return to the utility website, compared with 50 percent among brands in the bottom quartile (scores of 357-405).

The 2016 study is based on evaluations from more than 15,100 electric and/or gas residential customers, with 5,636 of these customers providing feedback about their online experience using a mobile device. The 65 largest U.S. electric and/or gas companies are included in the study, which was fielded from December 7, 2015, through January 21, 2016.

The study provides utility companies with an objective assessment of the usability of their website; establishes performance benchmarks; provides improvement recommendations; and identifies best practices across the industry. Ease of use is calculated on a 500-point scale.

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