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Going mobile without falling on your face

Live from the Mobile Utility Summit 2016: 

So, you want to join the cool kids and go mobile? Jose De Jesus, director of customer experience applications at JEA, examines the factors you should weight and what could go wrong with customer-facing apps.

"The question is: Should I do mobile and why? Some utilities are way behind. Some are still struggling," said De Jesus. He believes the answer to the question is "yes," but he has a few caveats. 

Reviewing market signals told JEA that people are comparing their utilities to the phone company and the cable company, not to other electric utilities. (They don't have experience, usually, with multiple electric utilities at one time. So, they can't really make that comparison.) Millenials, particularly, want that question to be answered with "yes," and they will expect everything to work smoothly, and they are a small portion of your customer now but a growing section of the future.

So, how do you make those millenials (and all your customers) happy with your mobile options? De Jesus brought up a Chartwell survey noting that utilities need to understand customer expectations, develop self-service channels, integrate social media, transform the contact center, learn to segment customers and invest in energy efficiency programs.

De Jesus also pointed to a McKinsey & Company piece on creating value through transforming customer journeys and what we can learn about the axis where customers meet mobile:

  • Customers want to know only what is relevant to them
  • Customers want it to be simple ("We are lazy by nature, humans," De Jesus said.)
  • Customers want it to be private

"These days, you have to think mobile first," De Jesus added. "We used to look at how to repurpose web pages. Now we need to start with mobile." And he noted if we put our human brains on before our company brains, we'd probably realize these things on our own.

"How many of us would feel naked without our phones?" he asked the nodding audience. So, if utility professionals think about those things they personally do, they personally want from other mobile applications, they get a good idea of what they should focus on internally with customer-facing applications, De Jesus pointed out.

So, how do you keep your customers from feeling mobile naked when it comes to their utilities? De Jesus has this list: Start with strategy. Start small. Keep moving. Listen to the customers. Understand what they expect (when it comes to functionality). 

As you work forward, De Jesus says you must consider speed, development costs, vendor support vs. internal support (after the mobile app is built), and the internal approval process.

De Jesus suggests planning functionality and self-service one step at a time. "We started with the basic stuff at JEA," he said: outage, bills, payment, alerts. Step two: start/stop, bill analysis, consumption analysis, savings opportunities, home profile, demand side info, an advisor. But, he warned, you certainly wouldn't start with savings opps on the app if they can't pay their bill through the app.

"Self service is one of the drivers of customer satisfaction, and when you build those drivers, you do them the right way. You need the same experience across all channels," De Jesus added. "This is why it's important to start with a solid strategy."

And keep it going. "The worst thing you can do is build an app and then leave it alone for three years," he said.

His best advice on finding the right tools to get happy customers who aren't mobile naked (and are happy with you): Balance capabilities with ease-of-use. (If there are a million options, but your customer only wants to use 3, you're overpaying and overworking the process.)

"The mobile market is a changing landscape," he concluded. "New technologies bring new opportunities, but also the potential that your vendor may not be in business tomorrow or that we'll reach market saturation." He pointed out that the limits here aren't technical, they're human. 

So he suggests always keep that human in mind, whatever you're building.

More from the Summit:





Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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Zac Canders's picture
Zac Canders on Oct 5, 2016 2:05 pm GMT

Kathleen - Very nice write-up! I'd love to see a followup piece covering responsive design vs. a full mobile app experience. Something that touches on vendor lock-in vs. robust, native, functionality. 

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