PCS - Green Energy Online

Our experience with enterprises with whom we have regular interactions can provide interesting case studies about online engagement from a user perspective. Here's what I've learned from interacting with my energy utility, Madison Gas and Electric (MG&E) in Madison, WI.

It's all about people

I'm the customer; my dwelling is not. I recently moved within MG&E's service area and was pleased to find I could still log on to my account with the user name and password I had established at the old address. Better yet, information about my energy consumption at my old address was available alongside that for my new address.

This is online CRM done right.

Keep the user experience seamless - I

My account page did not tell me about MG&E's "renewable energy Web channel called Green View". I found out about it via an email I received because I power my home with renewable (wind) energy through MG&E's Green Power Tomorrow (GPT) program. The email's link took me not to MG&E's site, but to videos on the website of the creative company that produced them. The Green View pages on that site were well-branded and had lots of MG&E content, but now I was clicking around another web site. There is no obvious way I would have found this from my account section on the MG&E site, nor could I find my way from this site back to my section of the MG&E site. Every Facebook user knows how to embed externally-hosted videos (e.g. from YouTube); it's not clear why MG&E did not do the same. And this site duplicates content from the MG&E site (e.g., GPT FAQ), which increases maintenance costs and the likelihood of revision error.

It's smart to harness outside talent to produce creative content, but, absent a compelling business reason not to, serve it up inside your own web site as part of an integrated user experience.

Leverage your loyalists

The first video appeared to be about a family in the Green Power Tomorrow program. Hey, I've been a GPT family for years, MG&E does not have to sell me. I stopped watching after 90 seconds. What MG&E could have done is enlisted me as an evangelist. What about viral marketing?

Treat the converted different than the unconverted. Your true believers are you most powerful promotional channel.

Keep the user experience seamless - II

My account page did not tell me about another MG&E green energy initiative, "co2gether"; I learned about this from a green tech colleague.  Reasonable content, but do MG&E customers need yet another URL to keep track of? Again, no obvious cross links to this site from the above two sites. Mge.com's search function does not return any reference to "co2gether" and the Green View site does even offer the user a search function. On the co2gether.org, there no oblivious links to Green View or Green Power Tomorrow, even though one would think there is a close connection between CO2 reduction and renewable energy use. A site search turned up no references to the former and a only couple to the latter.

Your web presence is not about your departmental boundaries and internal drivers; it is about your total relationship to your customer.

Reduce the friction

Web 2.0 is all about removing friction. To make best use of the co2getherorg.site, I had to link to my MG&E account info. At first, this seamed reasonably frictionless, but I was soon stopped by full screen asking for supplemental information. Really, I need an avatar to assess my CO2 impact? Probably not, but forcing prospective users to sort through an entire screen of data fields and check boxes inhibits participation..

Studies report that as few as 5% of users take the time to "personalize" their experience. Make sure people can get right to work extracting value from your site, while letting them build their profile out later if they want. If you need profile information for business purposes, ask for it gradually over time in exchange for added value.

Keep the user experience seamless - III

My account page did not tell me about a fourth URL carrying the MG&E name called "mpowering". This ties to my participation in GPT, but, again, I could find no . . . well, you get the picture.

The bottom line

MG&E has good green programs and substantial online content, but it's web presence it clearly not a C-suite priority. MG&E has lots of upside if it can take charge of its online presence and not be pulled in different directions by its departments, vendors, and partners.

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