An energetic project: building a self-service platform for Ferranti
Software firm Ferranti knocked on our door to help them expand their business model and build a new module for their flagship product.
Ferranti’s flagship product is MECOMS: a system made specifically to help energy providers and utility companies manage meter data and customer information. It helps utility companies in Europe, the Middle East, India and several Asian markets improve their business processes.
MECOMS is the leading product in its niche, but is currently aimed only at the utility providers – and not at their customers. However, most energy providers today offer some form of self-service to their customers; finding your best tariff online or entering your own meter readings has become the standard rather than the exception. After performing their own market research, Ferranti saw an opportunity to bridge this gap between MECOMS and these customers, and they came to us to help them shape this idea.
Our initial assignment: designing and developing a self-service portal for the end-user, to be included in the existing MECOMS offering, where it could tie in seamlessly with the databases and tools utility companies already use.
With this briefing, our Strategy and Service Design team went to work.
Designing a service
Because the self-service portal was to become part of the existing MECOMS software offering, but would impact Ferranti’s business model and marketing strategy, we started by taking a step back – away from the possible solution, and focusing on the purpose. We mapped the existing MECOMS business model and marketing strategy, and created an overview of the global utility market. While our team had gathered quite some experience in the telco industry, we were relatively unacquainted with energy and utility players and the many differences in approach across the world.
Based on this info, we started fleshing out the first recommendations on the product’s target markets and marketing opportunities. We also paid special attention on the purpose and goals of the new portal. Even though things always change along the road – that’s what being agile and flexible is all about, after all – we find that it’s crucial to make sure that everyone has a clear eye on the overarching goals before going into details (and features).
In this case, the goal was to improve MECOMS’ customer satisfaction. By enabling suppliers to provide their end users with an end-to-end digital customer experience (in the form of a self-service web portal), they could improve their customer relationships and increase customer engagement. From the perspective of suppliers, a self-service platform also helps lower the cost-to-serve for their own customers; when they have transparent information about their own energy consumption, they’ll be less likely to need support.
This focus on the supplier’s end customers will give MECOMS an edge compared to competing solutions.
Once we were all on the same page, we started expanding our research. We gathered details about Ferranti’s own offering, their competitors, and different energy players and regulators around the world. We also received a MECOMS training session, the likes of which Ferranti usually offers to their clients, to get deeper insights into the existing product. With the knowledge we gathered there and the results of a questionnaire we’d let all stakeholders at Ferranti take, we created the business model and marketing strategy for the new project.
Inspiration, ideation, design
During our sessions, we gradually defined the most important characteristics and features for the solution. The self-service portal had to be simple, relevant and transparent, and the content presented to the end user had to be actionable. From the perspective of Ferranti’s clients, the utility companies, the platform had to be modular and customisable, to ensure that it was adaptable to each client’s offering and branding.
After our second round of ideation, we had created a roadmap and idea backlog. At this point, our Experience Design team steps in to start drawing up the actual product.
Armed with the backlog and detailed briefing, they started sketching different approaches to the platform. The focus was entirely on optimising the user flow throughout the platform, regardless of style elements. The fact that, once in development, the platform would be built from independent modules was also relevant in the designs, as it requires a flexible visual approach.
Once the sketches were headed in the right direction, our team dove into the complete UX design, mapping out scenarios, flows and use cases to create the optimal balance between simplicity and functionality; and then moving onto designing the important UI style elements.
Designing the modules
As you can see in the screens below, we created a complete prototype for a fictional energy supplier to test both the technical aspects of the platform and its design flows.
The product’s homepage is as pared down as possible: four blocks allow the user to access their bills, get usage information, ask for support, and arrange for a move. The platform is accompanied by a series of questions; existing customers are sent to the portal, but potential customers are guided (in a clear, straightforward way) through a questionnaire that will help them determine the supplier’s best offering for their situation.
Once inside the self-service platform, customers click on the modules to get to their personal information. In each module, we tried to design with the customer’s needs in mind.
For instance, our research showed that many customers are confused by their utility bills. Thus, our billing module was built to show users the most important information first, and then allow them to click deeper into the details if they want to. We also included the possibility to pay a bill directly from the self-service portal.
The same approach was taken for the usage module. When a customer enters his meter data, the application not only presents them the trends within their own usage, but also a comparison with the average usage data within their segment. This means users are not interpreting their data in a vacuum. Users can also ask the platform to send them reminders to enter their meter data at regular intervals.
Development of the self-service portal is being wrapped up as we speak, and it’s set to be a part of the next MECOMS launch, which is planned for June. We’re curious to see how Ferranti’s clients receive it, and of course we’re looking forward to seeing more and better customer portals pop up all around.