Opower Small and Medium Businesses Energy Efficiency


ABOUT PROJECT
Lead UX designer @ Opower
February 2013 - December 2015
10 months
Shipped and currently live

LEARN MORE
Opower SMB blog post 1
Opower SMB blog post 2

OPOWER PRODUCT TEAM
Ben Foster, Product director
Natalie Musick, Product manager
Jim Jones, Visual design
Deena Rosen, Design director
Jagadeesh Kasaraneni, Eng director

MY CONTRIBUTIONS
Product vision
Generative user research
Concept development
Wireframes
User testing
Developer support


Background

Small and medium businesses are a critical customer segment for utilities. SMBs use five times more energy than their residential counterparts on average, and are 38% of their customers. Around half of commercial sector electric use comes from SMBs.

But these businesses are notoriously difficult for utilities to engage. In fact, participation in utility small business energy efficiency programs is often less than 5%. To understand why this is, we conducted onsite in-depth, cross-industry interviews with smb owners. We went to restaurants, doctor & dentist offices, religious congregations, retail shops across the country.


Design challenges

We learned that SMB owners are similar to residential customers in one very important way: when it comes to energy management they both lack the time, attention, and know-how to manage their energy use. This means that Opower’s approach of sending outbound mail with personal data insights, applied behavioral science, and energy-saving tips is a promising solution for SMB owners.

Through research, we uncovered four design challenges unique to SMB customers:

  1. How do we reach the right person who makes energy-related decisions?
  2. How do we get that person's attention in a pile of mail?
  3. How do we target a diverse group of small businesses of varying needs?
  4. How do we save energy when the agency to do so relies on the multiple people


Challenge #1: Reaching the decision maker

The first challenge is reaching the right person. Oftentimes, at a small business, the person who pays the bill is not the same person who makes decisions about energy use. Mail can go to an accountant, the business owner, or the on-the-floor business manager.

To make sure we reach that person, we designed a pre-program postcard, that grabs attention by priming the user and creating a knowledge gap of how their annual energy use compares to similar businesses. On the back, we prompt them to identify the person at the business responsible for making energy decisions, and to correct the mailing address if it is the incorrect person. 

 

 


Challenge #: Getting the SMB's attention

The second challenge is getting their attention. Businesses have a lot more noise we’ll need to cut through. The amount of cold calls, mail, and offers that businesses receive to save money around energy use is significant, so we have to be mindful of not appearing to fall into the category of “trying to sell me something”.

However, we learned that if we can personalize the report, businesses will love this product. We tested mock reports with a "business profile" in the top right corner. This part, especially the logo, was helpful to immediate set the expectation that this is a personalized experience. Although it didn't provide much energy information, many users circled it as their favorite part of the report. 
 


Challenge #3: Diverse small businesses

The third challenge is that small businesses are highly diverse. There are thousands of different business types and every owner considers their business to be unique.

To address this we've developed a smarter way to compare energy use amongst businesses. Our algorithm ensures that we make relevant comparisons by taking into account thousands of business categories, location, and square footage. So, a dentist office will be compared to a comparable dentist offices and a Chinese restaurant to a comparable Chinese restaurants.

To test the hypotheses that a more personalized, segment specific report is more effective, we decided to customize the tip content for two segments, restaurants and retail shops, and have generic small business content for all the other segments. If the restaurants and retail shops have significantly more energy efficiency savings in the program, we can choose to invest in creating more segment specific reports. 

  Final Designs  Front of a business energy report for a restaurant

Final Designs Front of a business energy report for a restaurant

  Final Designs   Back of a business energy report for a restaurant

Final Designs Back of a business energy report for a restaurant


  Final Designs   Front of a business energy report for a retail store

Final Designs Front of a business energy report for a retail store

  Final Designs   Back of a business energy report for a retail store

Final Designs Back of a business energy report for a retail store


Challenge #4: Agency

The fourth challenge is agency. Unlike a home, a business has a lot more people who impact the energy use. A business owner told us, “A small business is like a household with dozens of family members and hundreds of in-laws who visit every day.” In our on-site visits, we observed DIY signs and checklists managers created to remind their employees and customers to follow guidelines.

Inspired by this, we designed eye catching collateral that could be mailed with the reports. We want to help SMB owners build a culture of energy efficiency and enlist participation among employees and customers.

  Final Poster  Front of the poster gives 6 reminders for employees to save energy

Final Poster Front of the poster gives 6 reminders for employees to save energy

  Final Poster  Back of the poster provides instructions for the business owner.

Final Poster Back of the poster provides instructions for the business owner.