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Utility Websites Usability Report 2008

Utility Websites Usability Report 2008

Energy and water suppliers in the UK offer their customers a much better online experience than this time last year, but there is still much room for improvement with the majority of suppliers, according to a new study released today.

The 2008 Utility Website Usability Report from user experience consultancy, Webcredible, revealed that Southern Water came top of the 11 water supplier websites with a usability score of 77 per cent, a massive rise of 26 per cent from last year’s report.  EDF Energy was number one out of the six energy suppliers rising 22 per cent from last year to 76 per cent in 2008. 

After a desperately low average usability score of 47.7 per cent in 2007, 15 of the 17 suppliers have improved the user experience of their websites since last year, giving a much more respectable 2008 average of 58.7 per cent.  Aside from Southern Water and EDF Energy, leading the way in website improvement were Thames Water which improved its score by 26 to 64, and Scottish & Southern Energy which also rose by 26 to 61 per cent.

The potential benefits and cost savings of getting their users online are massive for utilities, particularly energy suppliers as customers are able to switch.  However, these can only be realised if the sites sign up to delivering a first class user experience.  The suppliers with the higher scores clearly realise this and are addressing the basic rules of good usability that had previously been ignored, such as prominent calls to action, key tasks not requiring registration and clear progress bars.

The average usability score of the energy suppliers (64.5 per cent) is substantially higher than that of the water suppliers (55.5 per cent).  This is largely because there are five water suppliers who scored 55 per cent or less, including Scottish Water which got the lowest score of 32 per cent, despite improving by 14 per cent.  Usability basics that were not being put into wholesale practice included contextual help with forms, effective error handling, and not requesting unnecessary information.

“The online channel is a potential gold mine for utilities if they can get their customers onto their websites to carry out account activity like switching tariffs, providing meter readings and even transferring from other providers.  A number of suppliers have placed the user experience at the forefront of this drive and are looking to make sure their websites are as usable as possible to get offline customers online,” comments Ismail Ismail, Director at Webcredible.
He continues, “However, there are still far too many utilities not placing enough importance on their website usability which will no doubt lead to sustained or increased call centre volumes as customers are reluctant to use websites where they can’t easily complete the tasks they need.”

The criteria used to evaluate the websites takes into account the complete online experience including browsing and navigation, forms and information submission and research and product display pages.

Webcredible analysed the websites of 17 of the UK’s leading energy and water suppliers in November 2008.  A similar study had previously been completed in October 2007 of the same sample of suppliers.
Each website was evaluated against 20 best practice guidelines and assigned a score of 0 - 5 for each guideline, with 5 being the maximum.  With 20 guidelines in total, websites were assigned a total Web Usability Index rating out of 100.  A full copy of the report can be downloaded from     

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