While utility websites are improving, many are failing to meet customer expectations around online mobile needs. This is according to J.D. Power's 2014 Utility Website Evaluation Study (UWES).
The research shows that utility website satisfaction has improved to 422 on a 500-point scale. This is up six index points from last year. While only two websites scored 440 or more last year, 10 utilities were able to reach this achievement. About 20% of utility websites included in the study failed to improve year over year.
"One of the biggest challenges the utility industry faces is designing their websites to deliver consistently excellent experiences on multiple screen sizes, such as a desktop or laptop, tablet and Smartphone," explains Andrew Heath, senior director at JD Power. "Customers are increasingly accessing their account information online from their desktop/laptop computer and there is a built-in expectation that they will have a similar experience with their utility's website on any device."
The number of customers visiting their utility's website via their Smartphone or tablet has more than doubled in 2014. Visits via Smartphone have increased from 26% in 2013 to 54% this year. Visits via tablet increased from 24% to 52%.
Mobiles essential during outages
Over 40% of utilities do not have a mobile-optimized channel to access their website. While the desktop/laptop is primarily used to access account information or make a payment, mobiles are important when it comes to reporting an outage or getting an outage update.
Customer satisfaction with their mobile website experience averages 405, while satisfaction among customers using a desktop/laptop computer to visit their utility's website increases 6 points to 422 year over year.
Tasks are still more challenging with a mobile
Utilities lag in satisfaction with website design compared to the credit card and insurance industries in common self-service tasks, according to JD Power studies, which examine the usability of utility websites by looking at these tasks:
Online account set up and account log in
View consumption history
Review account information and make payments
Research energy saving information
Report and view outages
Locate contact information
Perform account and profile maintenance
Locate gas leak information
The tasks of viewing consumption history and researching energy saving information improve the most in 2014. Account log in and set up an online account are the most challenging tasks from a mobile device, compared with a desktop or laptop.
Among the 75 utility companies included in the study, AEP, Portland General Electric and Southern Company perform well in overall customer satisfaction with utility websites when viewed from a desktop/laptop computer. Duke Energy-Progress, Southern Company and FirstEnergy perform well in overall satisfaction among customers when the website is viewed from a mobile device.
Engaging efficiently with the customer means tapping into every form of communication, especially those channels that offer the customer the most convenience.