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ConEdison on mobile: ask, don't assume

Live from Mobile Utility Summit 2016 show:

In the opening general session at Mobile Utility Summit 2016, speakers from Con Edison laid out their website re-platforming and their digital customer touch points, too. (They're deep in the process of a digital transformation.)

"Digital design and mobile apps are really not a utility's core competency," admitted Eric Mastroianni, senior systems specialist with Con Edison. He noted that sometimes they thought they knew best with customers and digital but have stepped back and listened to customers. 

The history of digital at Con Edison: In 1996, the utility first developed focused on investors and financial reports. In 1997, they launched their first customer online system. (He showed a picture that he added didn't really show "any brand identity.") In 1998 and 2000, there were redesigns that streamlined navigation and added content. Currently, they've had few website changes since 2007, but they have developed an optimized site for mobile in 2009 and then outsourced a mobile app in 2013. 

Mastroianni added that the recent past with their digital landscape lacked governance, worked with dated technology and had poor analytics and was too dependent on third parties. Unfortunately, their utility---like many---were working with limited resources to support development and maintence, had no pro web design people and was focused on "channel-centric design" (rather than customer-centric). 

Along with these known issues, sitting at the bottom of reviews pushed the utility forward, although the details weren't too surprising. Customers thought log-ins were hard and they couldn't find what they wanted. On mobile, customers "couldn't see what they're looking for." Customers thought the utility was "hiding" things on mobile. It was text heavy. It required lots of clicks.

This was a problem. Well, there were many problems, really.  So, turning back to the customer, they heard this painful note: "That we're dated," he added.

"@ConEdison's website has not been updated since AOL sent out its last free disc," wrote one customer.  They took this feedback seriously. They went out to other utilities and asked around.

With the actual project, Con Edison set up a vision. Then they worked on guiding principles: customer first, one company, simplicity, agility, personalization, security. 

"If customers feel like their data isn't secure, they will abandon self-service," he said.

At Phase Zero of Con Edison's digital transformation, they identified gaps and created road maps and plans. Then they did a little runthrough of content and a web experience exercise. Also key to this phase: vendor selection. 

The utility's digital transformation approach also required an usual focus on digital roles not normally found in utilities, including content strategists and designers.  And all of this led them to agile.

Stephen Doherty, senior analyst, followed up to discuss their Con Edison's specific work with agile methodology as an alternative to waterfall (analyze, plan, design, build, test, deploy). (Agile breaks up waterfall's linear process into "bites," Doherty noted.)

Agile is full of "sprints" that center around planning, iteration and reviews. (Usually a sprint cycle is about three weeks.)

Con Edison broke their digital transformation into four separate products: transactional, non-transactional, mobile, content management system. (They do plan to add more, including a preference center, chat options and surveys.)

What value can your bring customers and how quickly is the key with agile. Con Edison began with a business verison of "Mad Libs," talking as if they were each customers coming to the product: "As a (who are you), I want to (what do you want) so I can (why)." That "lib" may play out like this: As a residential customer, I want to receive push notifications on my mobile phone so I can be reminded when my bill is do. They call this the "user story," and they want to solve for these stories somewhere in the agile methodology. 

Con Edison digital transformation is in a three-year process full of sprints, and those sprints are full of what user stories the utility plans on achieving in that round. 

One detailed user story they're working on right now? Putting a payment extension feature into the mobile device. 

In the utility's mobile experience, Con Edison is defining the mobile experience (read: don't put everything and the kitchen sink in). They're putting customer wants and needs first.  And what do those customers want? A say. Value. Simplicity. ("If the customer sees something takes six or seven or eight steps, they're probably going to drop off," he said as an example.)

So why do all of this? Well, the first is simply better customer satisfaction, but the utility has also found, through studies,  that digital customers trust more, are more likely to share personal info and energy use info, are more into energy products and services offerings. In other words, digital customers are more open to how the utility landscape is changing. So, utilities, including Con Edison, want to up the mobile connections---make them smoother, make them work better, fix the issues---to smooth the transitions to utility business of the future.

How do you get there? Don't assume you know what the customer wants, Doherty said. "Ask them. Build it. And then ask again."


Kathleen Wolf Davis's picture

Thank Kathleen for the Post!

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