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Public Utilities Public Utilities: Making the case for a mobile app

In the business of delivering energy to the public, it’s attractive to forgo the latest technological fads and focus on what matters: Delivering world-class service while being a responsible steward over the resources under your discretion. However, adding a mobile app to the mix of channels used to communicate with your customers allows you to meet your customers where they are, today and increasingly in the future. Like the internet, mobile is no fad and, as we’ll show, having a mobile strategy isn’t just responsible, it’s a requirement in the 21st century.

If your organization does not have a mobile app, there are plenty of statistics to take into consideration. Although sales of smartphones leveled off in the United States, the percent of digital engagements from mobile devices grew from 57% to 63% between 2016 and 2017.1 Meanwhile, in early 2017, mobile apps accounted for nearly half of all global internet traffic.2

US adults are expected to spend an average of 3 hours, 35 minutes per day on mobile devices in 2018, which is an annual increase of more than 11 minutes. Nearly all of this additional time spent on mobile devices is attributed to smartphones, which will account for 66% of mobile minutes this year.3 Incredibly, native mobile apps account for over 90% of internet time on smartphones and 77% of internet time on tablets.3

These statistics become even more interesting when considering generational differences. For example, in 2018, 21% of Millennials report that they open an app on their device more than 50 times a day, compared to just 2% of baby boomers.4

In unregulated, competitive markets, an organization must go where their customers are, and customers are overwhelmingly on mobile. In this environment, many globally recognized and respected brands have built mobile apps for no other reason than "Our competitors have one. We must have one."

But what about regulated markets, where competition is not necessarily a substantially motivating factor? In such scenarios, it's necessary to dig a little deeper to make a business case for a mobile app strategy that works for the organization and their customers. When it comes to public utilities, we've discovered plenty of evidence that a mobile app can improve the customer experience while decreasing the cost of servicing accounts.

But there is also an essential question of accessibility to be considered. In 2018 the number of U.S. Adults who do not have broadband at home but own a smartphone crossed 20%.5 Public utilities that provide their customers with digital tools to manage their service are therefore obligated to consider how their customers get online.

Improve the customer experience with a mobile app strategy

Beyond any discussion of obligation, smartphone-dependency also raises interesting questions about profitability. The cost of servicing customer accounts with digital tools is undeniably and dramatically lower than live customer care. Call centers can cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually6, many orders of magnitude more expensive than even the most robust, custom developed apps.

It's also undoubtedly less frustrating than automated voice attendants. Who among us has not found themselves frantically mashing the ‘0’ key on their phone, in the hopes we can convince the phone robot overlords to connect us with a live human being?

Improved customer experience is another common theme when making the case for a mobile application in the private sector. Loyalty, referrals, customer lifetime value, and the cost of operation are all connected to the experience customers have with their providers. Like it or not, they compare their utility company with the experience they have with customer experience leaders.

Utilities in markets with emerging choice due to deregulation are starting to consider these concepts. Accelerating change and developing clean energy innovation continues to drive options in the market for retail energy.

While utilities in regulated markets need not worry about the cost of switching or new customer acquisition, avoidable negative customer experiences focus a spotlight on the relationship between the utility and their customers in a way that carries hard costs, including an increase in the price of customer service, public relations, and expensive regulatory interventions.

Mobile App vs. Mobile Web

It's not uncommon to wonder whether the correct strategy is to have a mobile app or rely on a responsive website to service customers who prefer to access the internet on their portable devices. However, I believe this is a false dichotomy. There are plenty of use cases when a simple mobile website makes sense. There are also persuasive arguments to use a mobile app for highly transactional use cases such as reporting outages or paying bills.

For one thing, native mobile apps have a better record on security than the alternative, particularly on the go. Unlike websites, mobile apps must be downloaded and installed, typically from a controlled market or ecosystem, which subjects them to basic standards of care regarding privacy and security. Apps also interact with less tracking code than browsers. And Apple and Android mobile operating systems have fewer vulnerabilities than Windows OS.

This improved security is likely one reason why mobile pay, leveraging technology such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet are exploding in popularity. Individuals globally now complete 60% of their payments digitally, and 20% used mobile devices.7

Unlike the mobile web, native apps also work offline. To the extent that there might be information which is critical to communicate to the public in the event of a natural disaster or some other outage scenario, so too is it essential to offer this functionality.

Finally, brand presence is another strong argument in the app vs. mobile web discussion. When a user downloads a mobile app, it adds a branded icon to the device interface. Given the number of hours users now spend on their devices daily, this is arguably among the most valuable digital real estate available, from a brand awareness perspective.

Get ahead of generational change and avoid disruption

Earlier in the post, we shared stats on age-related differences in the volume and velocity of mobile use. It’s safe to say: the kids like their phones. The generation behind Millennials, who have never known a world without smartphones, is coming of age and starting to pay their bills. As the technology has become more secure and reliable, trust and reliance upon these devices continue to grow. Mobile-only banking is already a thing, how long is it before a mobile-only public utility follows, in a world of crumbling regulatory advantage?

Even if that idea sounds far-fetched, it’s fair to assume as the generational shift unfolds mobile payments and notifications are primary channels for transactions and communications. You may not need a great app today to serve existing customers, but eventually, it will be necessary.

Last and certainly not least, it’s critically important for every organization to consider the disruptive impact of emerging technology and innovation. While headline grabbing companies like Tesla and Nest introduce dramatic consumer products that change the way customers think about powering their lives, dozens more business models are transforming the business of energy production and delivery. As accelerating deregulation unfolds competition will rise and organizations that embrace the relationship with their customers will win.

Accelerate your mobile strategy

The great news is, you don’t have to break the bank getting started with a mobile app. At Connective DX, we’ve created a mobile app accelerator called Tango, designed specifically for public utilities. With Tango, your customers can pay bills, report outages, receive push notifications, and communicate with customer care via a messaging service that starts with a custom chatbot created to handle a variety of typical, utility scenarios.

Organizations who have adopted Tango have reduced call volume and cut costs. Customization is a breeze and Tango was designed from the ground up to allow our clients to reuse existing APIs to drive down implementation costs and speed up the time to market. If Tango isn’t a perfect fit for your organization, we can create a custom instance that meets your requirements. Or, we can start from scratch with a full strategy and design engagement to fully understand the journey customers take with your organization and then build something from the ground up, to completely satisfy your unique needs.

If you’d like to know more about Tango, please contact us or check it out online.


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1Mobile vs. Desktop Usage Study 2018 - https://www.stonetemple.com/mobile-vs-desktop-usage-study/</
2Mobile App Usage Statistics 2018 - https://themanifest.com/app-development/mobile-app-usage-statistics-2018</
3Mobile time spent 2018 - https://www.emarketer.com/content/mobile-time-spent-2018</
4Mobile App Usage Statistics 2018 - https://themanifest.com/app-development/mobile-app-usage-statistics-2018
5Who is smartphone-dependent? - http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/
6Contact center pricing models - https://betsol.com/2016/06/top-6-contact-center-pricing-models-and-how-to-choose/
7Internet trends 2018 - https://www.kleinerperkins.com/perspectives/internet-trends-report-2018