Each year, Public Utilities Fortnightly releases its list of Top Innovators to celebrate those who have made a unique and impactful difference in the energy industry by developing innovative equipment, software, methods, tools, or procedures. Franklin Energy’s Innovation Lab was recognized as a 2021 Top Team of Innovators for their outstanding reimagining of traditional program customer service and user experience in virtual formats to be safely deployed during the pandemic and into the future.
Led by Danielle Marquis, Franklin Energy's Vice President of Product Management, the Innovation Lab team sprang into action at the onset of pandemic-related lockdowns. The team acted fast to develop, test, and deploy their solutions.
Spring of 2020: Completed market research and ideated solutions with clients to help minimize program disruption, while meeting customer expectations and helping drive a digital transformation of existing program designs
- Summer of 2020: Developed prototypes based on the most promising ideas, followed by consumer user testing for refinement
- Early fall 2020: Developed prototypes into full-scale products
- End of fall 2020: Launched two new virtual products into the market
- End of summer 2021: Launched these new products with nearly a dozen clients, winning awards on clients’ behalf in the process
The two new products, a multi-path energy audit participation module and a personalized kit module, provide an upgraded approach to traditional utility offerings.
Personalized Kit Module
The personalized kit module allows homeowners to receive semi-custom, fully custom, or subscription-based kits of energy- and water-saving products based on their needs and preferences. They simply provide their address to validate eligibility through a quick, user-friendly quiz. From there, users can order their kit in one click or select from available add-on products, which are offered through the utility’s marketplace. In addition, other relevant programs are cross-promoted during and after the order process to deepen engagement and smooth the overall customer journey.
Homeowners can explore the products in their box by learning more about the features and benefits, and they can access dynamic installation resources (e.g., written instructions, animated GIFs, installation videos) to improve installation rates. In addition, omni-channel support is available throughout the experience via phone, email, online chat, and text messaging. Finally, an integrated marketing strategy supports lead generation, transactional messages, and ongoing nurturing, with a full suite of marketing tactic templates that were developed based on best practices and underwent extensive user testing to maximize impact.
Multi-Path Participation Module
The multi-path participation module was built upon the personalized kit module, which enables one product to scale into the other. It provides multiple paths for residential energy audits:
- Self-serve/DIY energy audit with a kit of relevant products
- Virtual energy audit with kit a kit of relevant products
- In-person energy audit with direct installation of relevant products
The user experience is similar to the personalized kit module, however following the quiz, the user is presented with recommended participation options based on their answers. They can compare the options, then either order the kit via the standard personalized kit module experience, or instantly schedule their virtual or in-home energy audit, based on their preference. Whether virtual or in-home, Franklin Energy’s professional energy auditors are provided with the user’s quiz responses, which enables them to drastically reduce the time spent interviewing customers at the beginning of the audit, a key benefit of this new and improved user experience. Depending on program requirements, this can help reduce the length of the audit by up to 30%.
During the virtual audit, energy auditors leverage video chat, with available upgraded features like augmented reality to provide groundbreaking ways for auditors and residential customers to collaborate and improve energy efficiency. As with the personalized kit module, omni-channel support is available throughout the experience, as well as an integrated marketing strategy with a full suite of marketing tactics.
Designed for the Future
While these two new products were developed to meet immediate needs during the pandemic, the team’s market research confirmed that digital program offerings were sought after by utility customers both prior to the pandemic and even more so today. Through large-scale consumer pulse surveys over the last year and a half, the team found that users’ desire for virtual solutions, especially those that included text message-based support, increased as the pandemic waned, suggesting these products have long-term staying power for the industry.
Thanks to this innovative team comprised of a cross-functional group from product management to marketing, engineering, operations, and business development professionals across Franklin Energy, the future is looking bright for utility customer engagement.