reDiscovery Reconsidering user needs led to the overhaul of an important online tool for Victorian energy consumers

Date: November, 2015
File under: Articles

The brief

Victorian Energy Compare (previously My Power Planner) is an energy comparator tool developed by the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources as a part of “SwitchOn”, a website dedicated to providing information and guidance on electricity consumption to Victorians.

Switch on logo

The online tool was launched in September 2013 to provide an independent assessment of available energy offers from Victorian retailers based on a review of information a consumer provides about his or her energy use. Over 95% of Victorians who used the tool found a better electricity offer.

However, feedback from stakeholders identified a need for increased functionality and improved usability of the tool. The DEDJTR team recognized opportunities to expand its offerings to cater to solar consumers and those with dual fuel. That’s where we came in.

Re-evaluating consumer needs

Since mid-2014, U1 has undertaken a series of projects with DEDJTR to improve the value of Victorian Energy Compare for consumers. Our work began with usability testing of the initial tool, from which we uncovered a list of minor improvement opportunities. After post-test changes produced a moderate increase in consumer engagement, we adopted a more holistic and participatory approach the second time around.

To explore the relevance of the tool amongst a wider audience, we took a step back to revisit the tool’s intentions, viewing Victorian Energy Compare as part of the larger challenge of designing a useful and usable service for energy consumers. We hoped to uncover answers to key questions such as:

  • What do consumers understand about their current energy consumption and their relationship to energy retailers and distributors?
  • What is government’s role in energy consumption? How could it help consumers in managing their energy costs?
  • Where are the key pain points in the energy offer switching process?
  • How valuable is an energy offer comparator tool to consumers? Is this a useful approach to help consumers save money on their energy bills

We felt that these questions could only be answered by working with consumers. To address them, we involved the client and consumers in a participatory design approach.

Whiteboard session and participatory design explanations

New and improved

Whiteboard sessions with DEDJTR enabled us to map out all of the tool’s potential user journeys as well as generate a series of hypotheses that outlined what types of consumers would benefit from the tool and what they might need it for. We used this knowledge to inform our engagement with consumers.

Participatory workshops explored the process of choosing a new energy provider or offer and produced a set of clear insights regarding the behaviours, comprehension and needs of Victorian energy consumers.

This guided us toward an improved version of the online tool including the following major changes:

  • Simplified flow – reduced number of screens resulting in less steps for the user
  • Reduction of user input requirement – reduced number of input fields and a lower overall emphasis on the incorporation of Smart Meter data
  • Improved UI – updated layout for the offers page including the display of fewer offers at one time to allow for easier comparison

We produced and tested an updated prototype for Victorian Energy Compare that incorporated these findings as well as additional functionality to accommodate gas and dual fuel offer comparison and solar energy options.

Testing feedback was positive: It was easy to use, easy to learn, trustworthy and interesting enough for consumers to recommend!

Victorian Energy Compare tool screenshot

Current status

The new and improved tool launched on 17 October 2015. In the first 3 weeks, nearly 40,000 consumers visited the site with 61% completing transactions through to the final compare page and 10% of users returning to the site. Comments thus far have praised its clean look and feel and ease of use. Additional projects to incorporate new functionality based on opportunities uncovered in the research are also underway.

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