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Thames Water leads the way in UK utility websites

Thames Water leads the way in UK utility websites

Thames Water's website offers its customers the best user experience among UK energy and water suppliers and marks an overall trend of improvement in website usability within the utility sector, according to a new study released today.

The 2009 Utility Website Usability Report from user experience consultancy, Webcredible, revealed that Thames Water came top of the 11 water supplier websites with a usability score of 87 per cent, a huge rise of 23 per cent from last year's report.

Scottish & Southern Energy was top of the six energy suppliers rising 12 points from 2008 to a score of 77 per cent in this year's report. The average website usability score of UK utilities improved substantially by 11 per cent between 2007 and 2008, but 2008's average of 58.7 per cent still left a lot to be desired.

However, the 2009 report has seen 12 of the 17 suppliers improve the user experience of their websites since last year (five have improved scores by more than 10 per cent), giving a much better average score of 65.5 per cent.

The biggest usability improvement seen this year was by Anglian Water which improved last year's score by 27 to 83 per cent. Despite improving by two per cent to a score of 79 in this year's report last year's top utility site, Southern Water, slipped to third behind the vastly improved Thames Water and Anglian Water websites.

Despite the potential benefits and cost savings of getting their customers online, many utilities are still not addressing basic usability guidelines that are essential to offer their customers a good online user experience. Areas for improvement include the design of action buttons, provision of contextual help, effective error handling and explaining the switching process (for energy providers).

The average usability score of the energy suppliers (69.5 per cent) is still higher than that of the water suppliers (63.3 per cent), largely because there are still three water suppliers who scored 50 per cent or less, including Scottish Water which got the lowest score of 32 per cent, the same as last year. However, the averages have become closer than the 10 per cent difference seen last year, largely due to improvements by the likes of Thames Water and Anglian Water.

Trenton Moss, Director at Webcredible comments, "This past year has seen the UK utility sector as a whole substantially improve online user experience as energy and water suppliers look to engage with their customers online, bringing down costs and improving customer service.

However, many utilities are still not doing enough online and the potential benefits and cost savings of getting their users online can only be realised if the sites sign up to delivering a first class user experience. If users can’t find the information they need they’ll switch off and pick up the phone – or worse they won’t bother getting in contact at all."

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.

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