Meridian Energy admits it is behind most of its competitors in offering online access to its customers.
“We’ve only been giving them their bill by email for the past 18 months,” says product management spokesman Glenn Cooksley. So the company knew it had to do something different.
It’s come up with a web portal that enhances the ordinary information provided to the customers and lets them indulge in a bit of “fun” customisation. At the same time it offers “green” advice and subtly collects information about the customer’s situation, so special offers can be targeted – there’s no point in pushing offers for cut-price insulation when you already have a fully insulated house.
At the more practical end the portal allows bill payment online, with the usual attached loyalty scheme, and recall of past bills. The customer can construct a graph of their consumption over time – in the form of trees of the appropriate heights if they really want to – and compare it with the average for similar customers and with their own past year’s performance.
Cooksley admits that it’s a bit odd for a power supplier to press its customers to use less of its product, but if the result is perceived honesty and resulting customer loyalty, Meridian reckons it will pays off.
There is a facility to append virtual yellow stickers to the graph to remind yourself that relatives came to stay in July and that’s why your consumption was higher than usual.
On a broader front, customers can signal particular interests – especially in energy-saving - and will be offered regular links to relevant news stories.
As well as building usage scenarios for typical kinds of customer, Meridian has provided a portal for its customer service operators, who can “chat” textually with a customer who is having a problem with their energy consumption, has a query about their bill or trouble operating the portal itself. In the last case, the operator can take over the customer’s screen – as ICT helpdesk staff have long been able to do – and guide them to the right pages and links.
Many customers could find it attractive to decorate their customised portal with pictures of their family, or cartoon equivalents. Cooksley says one of the designers’ objectives was to have people exclaiming “who’d expect that from a power company?”
Faced with a feature allowing them to keep a virtual pet llama, they probably will.