Improving Electricity Utility Customer Management in Mozambique through Human-Centered Design
If you’ve ever spent too many hours on the phone with a customer service representative, tried to navigate a confusing website, or found a product hard to use, you may have been a victim of a poor user experience.
Many companies, including electricity utilities, are also guilty of force-fitting their customers into a product or service. However, some companies take a different approach by placing themselves in their customers’ shoes to construct the best possible user experience based on the customer’s wants and needs. This is known as human-centered design (HCD) — a creative approach to problem solving, one that starts with people (users or customers), and ends with innovative solutions tailored to meet their needs.
Linking Happy Customers to Increased Connections
In the energy context, HCD means thinking about customer energy needs; how customers will perceive, interact with, and use energy products; and iterating solutions to promote alignment between technical and financial feasibility and customer behavior and perception.
With a current electrification rate of only 29 percent, the Government of Mozambique aims to electrify all households by 2030. For companies like Electricidade de Moçambique (EDM), Mozambique’s electricity company since 1977, achieving this daunting task relies heavily on human behavior; from customers being willing to pay for connection contracts and electricity to how EDM staff communicates with new customers and communities.
Providing universal energy access requires EDM to organize vast amounts of physical materials and resources, but also to rethink the often-overlooked aspect of how to manage its new customers.
- How will EDM communicate with new, rural customers who have not had electricity access?
- How will it provide status updates to customers waiting for connections?
- How will it combat non-technical losses by building trust with its customers?
In 2019, EDM initiated a pilot HCD approach, with Power Africa support, to improve its new and existing customer experience and facilitate new connections nationwide. The value of this approach is perceived through the concept that customers will be more likely to connect to the grid if their experiences throughout the process are easy and if employees are providing better customer service, which is the basis for the concept of “customer centricity”. As customers have more positive experiences with a responsive utility, they will tell others, and demand for connections will increase.
Creating a Customer-centric Utility
The HCD process follows four main stages: discover, define, develop and deliver. The discover stage involves in-depth research to understand stakeholders through a structured interview process. This research is critical and informs everything else throughout the HCD process, from the development of personas and journey maps, to the ultimate changes implemented throughout the organization.
Over the course of two months, Power Africa and EDM teams conducted 191 field interviews with both potential and existing customers, community leaders, and EDM employees of various backgrounds in the South, Central, and Northern regions of Mozambique. The interviews with customers and community leaders focused on experiences gaining or attempting to gain an electrical connection, while interviews with EDM employees focused on their experiences helping customers obtain connections.
After conducting the interviews, Power Africa and EDM proceeded to map stakeholders who are typically within any customer’s “ecosystem” of interactions. As shown below, the left-side electricity customer is the starting point, and their degrees of connection surround them to the right.
While many other customer management approaches categorize their customers purely by demographic information, HCD creates archetypal customer groups, also called personas, in terms of behaviors, motivations, and attitudes.
The purpose of personas is to create empathy with an end user by understanding that person’s story — goals, motivations, worries and frustrations. These personas can help EDM differentiate between customer groups based on not only demographics but also emotional and motivational factors.
In the process of understanding customers’ experiences obtaining electricity connections, and EDM employees’ journeys in facilitating those connections, Power Africa collected, analyzed, discussed, and developed nine “personas” — distinct stakeholder archetypes representing trends and the most common exemplary (not verbatim) stories heard through 191 local interviews.
Mapping the Customer Journey to Enhanced Experience
Power Africa and EDM inserted the nine personas’ “journeys” into journey maps describing their unique connection process, and representing the common patterns of experience that illustrate beneficial observations for EDM’s strategy. A journey map is a tool to identify and strategize for key moments in the product, experience, or service you’re designing. It is a simple framework that helps think through key moments for a customer as they experience a solution.
Six customer journey maps told the customers’ journeys gaining an electricity connection, while three employee journey maps told the employee’s journey helping customers connect.
By implementing HCD, EDM gained many insights for improving both quality (e.g. increased customer satisfaction, better ease of business, reduced commercial losses) and quantity of new connections. Using journey maps to capture pain points, HCD revealed opportunities for EDM to improve the connection process. For example, EDM realized that the average customer needed to visit the EDM electricity distribution center at least three times to gain a connection, which often included the challenge of finding transportation in rural areas. Additionally, many customers were confused by the pricing structure EDM used for its promotional connection rates, prompting EDM to clarify options to improve customer engagement.
“The project is going very well. We are very happy to be participating in this project, and we are now expecting to receive indications of the main improvements for this process of connecting new customers. Then we will define a specific roadmap to implement these new improvements, and we expect that this work will increase the number of people with electricity, and people will also be happy because they will realize that we are very organized to quickly respond to the huge demand. We expect to receive a huge number of customer demands for new connections, that’s why this project is really very important, since it will prepare the Commercial Department to respond in a very systematic way,” EDM General Director for Commercial, Benjamim Fernandes
Improving customer service is an ongoing journey. Working with Power Africa, EDM has identified three key focus areas based on the HCD process to transform EDM customer engagement. These include i) improved community relations, with a focus on developing proactive engagement with community leaders, ii) improved customer service management to better manage customer expectations, and iii) develop (or build) a more comprehensive scheduling process to ensure customers know when to expect their connections.
Once approved by EDM’s board of directors, these solutions will be developed into an implementation roadmap, and will then then rolled out across the EDM service area in mid-2021.