Lacking in energy

ceib-energy_200Australia’s energy providers are struggling to meet the online needs of their customers, with text-heavy websites delivering poor navigation.

That’s the message from the inaugural Customer Experience Industry Benchmark report on the energy industry, exclusively compiled by customer experience research firm Global Reviews for SmartCompany.

Every month, Global Reviews will examine a different industry sector, including banking, finance, communications and retail, to find out which companies deliver the best online experience for their users.

Global Reviews, which has been delivering customer experience benchmarking for more than a decade, is a completely independent research company, focused on providing insights and actionable recommendations that lead to improved sales conversion and customer retention.

Global Reviews measures the online customer experience by examining a website’s content, features and functionality. Typically more than 400 individual criteria are evaluated. Criteria are determined based on best practice usability principles, research on conversion analysis and annual surveys of customers’ needs and expectations when completing specific tasks within an industry.

The end result is an Index score, which is a presented as a percentage. A website with a score of below 55% is considered to have failed to meet expectations; a score between 55-68% is considered to have met expectations; a website with 68-83% has exceeded expectation; and anything above 83% is marked as outstanding.

Most benchmarks are updated on a bi-annual basis.

The energy sector

The first sector examined for SmartCompany by Global Reviews is the energy sector.

Given the huge customer bases that utility companies enjoy, and given the deregulation of large chunks of the Australian retail energy sector, the websites of Australia’s energy companies have become crucial touch-points for customers.

But analysis by Global Reviews suggests the sector if failing to meet the needs of customers, with an average index score of 50.3% suggesting most industry players are below the “pass mark” score of 55%.

The industry benchmark examined eight energy companies – ActewAGL, AGL, Aurora, Country, Energy Australia, Integral, Origin, TRU – but found just three were above 55%.

energy-q32010

Leading the pack was Canberra utility ActewAGL, just ahead of its Sydney-based parent company AGL. Third place was taken by Tasmania’s Aurora Energy, which remains a government-owned entity.

While the top three managed to rank to meet Global Reviews’ experience expectations, the majority of the sector remains well below the 55% pass mark.

Global Reviews senior advisor Paul Moorehead says it’s a poor result in an industry where customers rely on suppliers for a range of information.

“The energy industry has plateaued in its customer experience ratings, as it struggles to support customers with clear navigation to key tasks and content,” he says.

Moorehead says the inherent navigation problems of many of the sites in the energy sector have resulted in an over-abundance of frequently asked questions and “quick links” on the home page. He sees the use of these tools as an admission that information is often hard to find on what he describes as “text heavy” websites.

Moorehead also says the energy companies must do better in one of the sector’s big problem areas – the environment.

But although energy companies have poured huge resources into proving they are environmentally responsible, the poor state of their websites suggest the message is not easy to digest at a customer level.

“While providers show strength around environmental issues they are falling behind in supporting customers with accurate ways to reduce energy consumption.”

Five key lessons

Moorehead provides five tips from the analysis of the energy sector:

  • Stand out. Moorehead says too many energy company websites look the same, and provide the same basic offer for customers. “The sites must improve the value proposition for customers to join or stay with providers – and to differentiate themselves from competitors.”
  • Cater to online users. Moorehead says the energy sites must offer functions for an online community which have become to expect – and know how to use – self-service and online benefits.
  • Go green – properly. “The sites must support customers to make educated environmental choices and energy savings with accurate calculators and tips.”
  • Put the customer first on the home page. Moorehead argues that the energy sites are putting themselves before their customers when it comes to their home pages. “Providers need to make their homepage real estate work harder for them by focusing on customer needs and tasks over internal business objectives.”
  • Let the customer help themselves. Moorehead says there is a clear trend among website operators to try and resolve customer problems before they call or email (something Global Reviews calls “pre-resolution”). But the energy companies aren’t good at it, and he says there needs to be more work done to offer access to consolidated help sections and contextual FAQs, particularly on enquiry forms and contact pages.

SmartCompany will feature a Customer Experience Industry Benchmark each month, exclusively compiled by Global Reviews, an independent customer experience benchmarking firm.

Global Reviews measures online customer experience by examining a website’s content, features and functionality. Typically more than 400 individual criteria are evaluated. Criteria are determined based on best practice usability principles, research on conversion analysis and annual surveys of customers’ needs and expectations when completing specific tasks within an industry.

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