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Spotlight on... Ronan McKinless, designer

Chris Roper, Spotlight

26th October 2016

We're enjoying a cuppa with Ronan McKinless, designer and stand-up comedian (though you wouldn't believe it from this picture!), about making our customer journeys so intuitive.

So, Ronan, why did you join Octopus?

I joined Octopus in January 2016. I'd worked with a few of the guys before and heard about what they working on – the sheer size of transforming the energy industry for the better appealed to me. At that time I’d taken a break from design and wanted to return to where I could have a real impact on people's lives. 

What do you do at Octopus?

I design things and make those things happen. I focus on making sure the customer's experience – everything from statements to choosing tariffs and submitting readings – is intuitive, without needing extra effort to understand. 

Personally, I like to do work that’s not immediately noticeable. I believe form follows function, and there's nothing better than watching a user breeze through a sign-up process with zero questions. 

We shouldn't be trying to teach customers to do something our way. The best designs come from watching human behaviour and then building around that behaviour. The user interfaces that become industry standards are intuitive – and acknowledge their medium – they don't force new ideas on a user just because it seems fun to design or looks "good".

How is designing at Octopus creating a better experience for customers?

I like to think of it as the merge of technology, business needs, and human behaviour. If we can't meet business needs, we can't help customers; if we don't use the best technology, we can't give customers what they want; and if we don't look at human behaviour and account for that in our design, customers won't have the best energy experience.

Big companies tend to be slow, with complicated approval and feedback processes. This means they don't adapt to change well, and improvements take months or even years to be put into practice (if at all). Their designs are either very old, or a patchwork of elements that were never designed to work in harmony. At Octopus it's completely different.

We've a small design team, working on problems iteratively, and getting better each time. We’re working in an industry with poor tech foundations, so it’s a big challenge to get it working for us. We’re using as much of our own tech as we can, but with some things outside of our control, we do have a bit of give and take. Whenever we find a way of improving the customer experience, we do it.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a completely new way for customers to interact with their billing and statements. It's complex, to say the least! The customer is used to interacting with certain parts of the bill in isolation, such as Direct Debits. Add your energy usage and account balance on top and it starts to get tricky. That's before you even get to estimated usage and changing tariffs!

It's work worth doing though. When we design these communications in a way that's understandable and succinct, we make reading statements less of a chore, and don't bother customers with irrelevant information.

What is the best thing about your job?

Definitely working in a small team. It lets you take on more responsibility and you can contribute more to projects. We work closely with the Operations Team and I’ve had immediate feedback after changing something which didn’t quite work, which is invaluable. You’re being validated day in, day out. If it’s working, you don’t hear anything, if it doesn’t you’re told.

If you get it right, it’s almost like you’ve done nothing at all!

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The industry. Trying to simultaneously learn from smart people in the company about the energy industry, and then putting that into systems, language, and design, to help people understand it. There’s a lot of jargon which just isn’t necessary. Traditionally, the industry has been given a long leash and took advantage of it, so we're constrained by decisions of the past. 

It’s a very complicated industry but it's also an extremely important one. People use energy without thinking about it. As long as it's there when they need it, they don't really want to know more about it.

Any message for those thinking of switching to Octopus Energy?

We don't use "tease and squeeze" pricing - we'll always be good value. Not necessarily the best on any given day, but in the long run, you probably can't do much better. We don't entice customers with short term savings, then increase prices a year later. And since we’re a new company, we can take advantage of our technology to offer savings. Please try us. We can’t ask for your trust, but we'll work really hard to earn it.

Any message for those who've already switched?

Please let us know what you think. We can always do better by getting a more human touch. We read absolutely everything and often it becomes part of our experience. So let us know what you need or want to see. It’s the only way we can make it better. Email me at ronan.mckinless@octopus.energy.


Hey! Just so you know, your device is fully charged and you're still charging it. Removing the charger will avoid degrading your battery 😊

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