First Utility: Using Mobile To Stand Out When Your Job Is To Keep the Lights On

About sixteen years ago, the U.K. deregulated its energy industry. That means customers in the U.K. can now pick and choose their energy providers as they please. The new environment translates to some big changes for incumbent energy providers, who are no longer guaranteed customers (as they are in most of the U.S.)

Privatization created six energy companies who inherited customers on a geographical basis and still serve the majority of customers in the U.K. — about 95 percent. However, in the last few years 15 smaller providers entered the market and between them have attracted the other 5 percent of the market by offering customers an alternative, high-value experience. First Utility is one of the most successful of these competitors. In the last three and a half years it has enjoyed a nine-fold increase in its customer base and doubled its market share from 1 percent to 2 percent.

First Utility doesn’t produce any of its own energy, buying everything on the wholesale market. The company is solely focused on energy retail, and its field operations are almost entirely outsourced. Since they don’t have to front these costs on their books, acquiring new customers is actually one of First Utility’s biggest upfront expenditures. Which means keeping existing customers happy is a major priority.

But energy is energy, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to stand out. The biggest differentiators are price, service and reliability, as well as the more nebulous — but very important — customer experience.

For First Utility, customer experience success = mobile experience success.

A Better Experience Through Mobile

Bill Wilkins joined First Utility five years ago as CIO, and from early on he knew mobile would be an important strategy for standing out from the competition. Wilkins saw mobile as a key platform to bring all the information, capabilities and content First Utility’s customers need to them quickly and simply. Since many of their customers prefer to use mobile devices to manage their utility accounts, Wilkins’ goal for the company has been to make mobile the primary touchpoint with all of its customers.

Wilkins is well-aware that First Utility competes with goliath energy companies who are often able to spend far more than his company can afford on developing mobile experiences. Like any young company facing established players, they needed to do more with less.

As Wilkins and his team sought to create their mobile app, they used Appcelerator to minimize the amount of development resources required to achieve their mobile vision. The first step to this end was translating “My Account” – their online bill pay and account management service – to a mobile experience. In fulfilling Wilkins’ larger vision, First Utility also began implementing features from my:energy – the utility’s web-based energy management tool- into the same app. Through activity in their smart meters, customers can access info like how many kilowatt-hours they consumed, or how much they spend on specific days, all on their mobile devices.

With a team of four engineers, First Utility has built an app that allows customers to manage their accounts and visualize their energy usage in detail, across Apple, Amazon and Android phones and tablets. The app performs with the same level of functionality and across more platforms than those of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies that dominate the market.

The Appcelerator Platform is helping First Utility do much more with their existing resources. This has leveled the playing field for them and helps them deliver an experience on par with industry giants, at a fraction of the cost or resources.

First Utility and the Future Home

Wilkins is continuing his vision for a single app as a destination for their customers to get everything they need. Obviously, experience and engagement are critical to success. They’ve achieved the account management side with initial success on the energy side.

Down the road, Wilkins and his team want to add smart home and connected device controls, with the ultimate goal of turning the app into a central controlling hub for all things energy-related in the home.

In an industry with a product as fundamental as energy services, First Utility is using mobile to stand out from the crowd and deliver an elevated customer experience.

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