You’re Doing Digital Wrong

By Ty Benefiel

Most electricity companies claim they have “gone digital”, pointing to their website – and sometimes their mobile app – as proof.  But the web and mobile apps they’ve created offer the same functionality as their paper bills or customer service phone numbers.  Digital should not be treated simply as another channel, but as a fundamentally different way to interact with and provide value to customers.  If you aren’t focused on creating a novel digital experience, you are wasting your money.

Can your customers do anything on your web or mobile app that they can’t do by calling you?

If you answered “No”, fear not – you are not alone.  Almost every electricity provider’s website and mobile app has standard capabilities – review bill history, pay bill, change plan, and cancel service.  Unfortunately, these baseline functionalities are usually the extent of the digital capabilities.  Why spend millions on a website and mobile app if you aren’t providing additional value for your customers?

The music industry is the perfect example of what happens when you merely digitize the analog.  As CDs were converted into MP3s in the early 2000s, music retailers were content with selling digital albums, mirroring what they had done when music was in the form of CDs, cassettes, and vinyl.  Innovators recognized the new capabilities of the internet and digital media as an opportunity to disrupt the industry by disassembling albums, offering new ways to discover artists, and allowing consumers to share their musical experiences within their social network.  While this disruption was great for Apple, Pandora, and Spotify, the lack of a digital strategy crushed traditional music retailers. In one fell swoop, stalwarts like Tower Records and Sam Goody went out of business.

So how do you avoid the fate of Tower Records and instead become Spotify (currently valued at $20 billion)? The key is to utilize the capabilities unique to digital to deliver brand new experiences and value for your customers.  Here are some characteristics unique to internet-enabled technologies and how you might be able to leverage them:

Interactivity – Gone are the days of static web pages.  Customers expect to accomplish something when they interact digitally, not just read text. An interactive digital experience will keep people on your site or mobile app longer and encourage them to keep coming back, improving engagement and overall retention.

Personalization – The internet allows for complete customization of the digital experience for every single user – see Amazon, Netflix, and nearly every other successful app.  If your customers log in to your site or app and feel like they aren’t getting an experience that is specific and 100% relevant to them, they will bail.  Collect data about your customers and use that to tailor the design, language, and information to their needs.

Richness – Text is boring.  Graphs are boring.  Don’t be boring.  Infographics, audio, and video all provide useful information to your customers in an engaging way. Digital attention spans are short, so you must make your experience stand out if you want to get your point across.

Social – Perhaps the biggest change in the digital age has been the shift from a need for privacy to a desire to share.  By incorporating social elements into your digital strategy, you will allow your customers to fulfill their need to share with friends the value they’re getting from their energy provider.  Not only is this beneficial to the customer’s experience, but also helps you organically acquire new customers.

Connectivity – People, machines, and software are already inextricably connected. This trend will only persist. The famed technologist Robert Metcalfe claimed that the value of a network is the square of its connections.  The same can be said about your digital strategy.  The more connectivity you offer to other products, services, and people, the more value you can create for your customers.


Ty Benefiel is CEO of Meter Genius