EDF Energy Picture Meter Reading – point and shoot accurate bills

A few weeks ago, my team at EDF Energy introduced Picture Meter Reads to the EDF Energy iPhone app. With the press of a button, we were kicking the UK Energy market into the 21st century.

The retail energy market relies on dated analog technology (your electricity and gas meters) to measure how you use energy and bill you. In a world of Internet standards and interoperability where everything is connected, energy meters remain obstinately obscure, unconnected, reliant on people to take and send reads. The system relies on an army of highly trained people that roam the streets and knock on doors to collect meter reads from every one of the millions of meters scattered all over the country. Some meters may go unread for long, resulting in estimated readings and inaccurate bills.

Companies allow customers to send their own reads by phone or PC, but reading the meters’ display is not as easy as it sounds, and Web and phone interfaces -often thrown together by simply exposing internal IT systems- are frequently crude and hard to use.

So we decided to change all that: we wanted to make it very easy for the customer to send us a read. Without having to understand how a meter works. Without having to make an effort and learn another interface. While having a bit of fun, if possible.

In a rare occurrence, the inspiration came from my own experience. My gas meter is under the sink inside a low cupboard and is not readable with the naked eye. For years, I have been crouching on the floor, taking a photo of it, then reading the photo and typing the number. I started doing this with an iPhone 3G back in the day, and I had yet to take a photo that wasn’t usable first time around, so I thought: how hard could it be to replicate this experience, removing the “read and type” step and just accept the photo?

Very hard, as it happens. Technology alone was not the answer, so we had to get creative. Regulation and health and safety all had to be taken into account. And how do you prioritise something that brings customer comfort and perhaps a smile? But my team are not easily put off by a challenge.

So a few weeks ago Photo Meter Reads was released. Customers loved it, and so did the press. Here are a few choice links:

So well done to the team and to EDF Energy for delivering this magic customer experience.

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