Why Utility Companies Need to Provide An Inclusive Online Experience
Every home needs access to gas, water, and electricity. Fact.
Internet usage skyrocketed throughout 2020 and 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Data Reportal, there were 22.82 million internet users in Australia in January 2021, an increase of over 513,000 since January 2020.
This is not a surprising statistic. With limited opportunities to leave the house, customers were pushed online to conduct many day-to-day tasks, including contacting utility providers, booking installations, and paying bills.
Disabilities are not always visible. In the past couple of decades, businesses have made tremendous leaps in making their premises more accessible to those with physical disabilities. However, in the modern-day climate, efforts now need to be made to ensure equal access is available online too.
This involves making adjustments for internet users with a range of hidden disabilities like cognitive and neurological disorders, visual impairments, and language barriers. Some examples include:
- Colour blindness
- Speaking/reading English as a second language
You may be thinking this is not such a big deal. If brick and mortar customer service outlets are closed, people can just go online for the information and services they need, right?
Wrong. Utility services are not readily available to all because many of our most vulnerable citizens face significant barriers when accessing information online.
Our Aging Population
Australia is home to almost 4 million people aged 65 years or over, and the aged are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to accessing utility services.
As the aging population increases, so does the overall percentage of people with disabilities, visual impairments, and hearing loss. Often, multiple accessibility adjustments are required to support the elderly online because many already struggle with a hidden disability combined with the general barriers brought on by old age.
Helping Customers in Vulnerable Circumstances
We’ve outlined in previous articles why we believe web accessibility is a basic human right, and this is particularly important when it comes to vital services like access to gas, water, and electricity.
All of us have struggled with the realities of Covid-19 in some way or another. So imagine how scary and frustrating it must be to desperately need information about essential services for your home, but not be able to access it - or act on it once you have it.
Customers who lack the necessary tools to access or adequately understand information online cannot communicate with suppliers via the internet. With other lines of communications blocked or delayed, it is therefore critical that websites are accessible.
“The technology of consumer engagement is changing and moving online more and more. As a result, vulnerable customers need to be supported.”
Recite Me Founder and CEO Ross Linnett
The Impacts for Utility Providers
There are over 30 electricity and gas suppliers to choose from in Australia. That amount of choice can feel overwhelming, and the internet remains an essential source for information where people can research and compare their options. Therefore, information and communication services must be available to all internet users so that everyone can address their basic human needs for gas, water, and electricity.
Website accessibility is the right thing to do. But there is a well-established business case for embracing an inclusive too. Making your website inclusive opens up an extra 18% of the market share, as 1 in 6 people in Australia have increased online access needs.
Optimising Self-Serving Accounts
Throughout 2020 and 2021, customer service teams have been inundated with calls. Wait times have been at an all-time high, with consumers on the end of the phone not knowing if their call will be answered in 5 minutes, 5 hours, or not at all.
Improving web accessibility and providing more practical and efficient ways for customers to communicate online can help avoid situations like this. Plus, it not only improves customer service but uses employee time more effectively.
Price Comparison Sites
Inequality in access to information leads to inequality in access to services, which can have significant financial impacts on the individuals concerned. So it’s not just the utility providers themselves that need to be considering consumer accessibility needs, but also the many comparison sites that help people make the best financial decisions.
Make Your Website Inclusive
Recite Me is here to help businesses communicate information more effectively by making websites accessible and inclusive of all users.
With the Recite Me assistive toolbar installed on your website, those with sight loss, cognitive impairments, learning difficulties, and attention disorders can access your website in the way best suited to their individual requirements. It also accounts for varied linguistic needs. Users can:
- Personalise font size, type, and colour options to make each web page easier to read.
- Download content as an audio file as an alternative to reading.
- Access text to speak functions in 35 different languages.
- Have text read aloud at varying speeds.
- Utilise a screen mask and ruler for better focus.
- Convert text into over 100 different on-screen languages.
- Make use of the toolbar’s built-in dictionary and thesaurus.
- Switch to “text-only” mode to strip away graphics and page clutter.
How Inclusive Websites Help Utility Providers
Over the 12 months, Recite Me made thousands of utility website pages accessible. Our utility sector data for 2020 demonstrates that:
- The Recite Me assistive toolbar was launched 233,000 times.
- Over 944,000 utility-related web pages were viewed using the toolbar.
- Our software translated over 7 million pieces of content into multiple different languages.
- Over 1.6 million people utilised the screen reader to have web content read aloud.
- Over 86,000 individual styling changes were made by users accessing utility websites.
We invite all energy suppliers and utility comparison websites to take positive steps and make their websites more inclusive using assistive technology.
"Recite Me was the easy choice for Cadent not only because it was straightforward to implement but because it is so user-friendly for our customers and has such a broad range of features to support accessibility. We particularly like how an online customer can save their preferences, meaning that when they return to our pages they continue to have a personalised and hassle-free experience. "
Jo Giles, Customer Safeguarding Manager, Cadent