For SMUD, a community-owned, not-for-profit electric service provider in Sacramento, California, supporting carbon emission reduction in the environment is a priority. That’s why the organization is constantly innovating and exploring ways to encourage its customers to convert their current energy systems from gas to electricity.
For years now, SMUD has been leveraging customer insights from its residential customer insight community, Plugged In, to involve customers in the decision-making process to de-risk decisions, accelerate innovation, and ultimately drive revenue growth. The insight community is built on Sparq, the customer insights platform.
Naturally, SMUD went directly to Plugged In to test out its new induction cooktop. But this time around, the market research team did things differently by conducting in-home user testing (IHUT) rather than sending out a traditional survey.
The in-home user testing had several purposes:
- Validating new product opportunities (including induction stoves, heat pump water heaters, etc.)
- Identifying areas of focus for consumer education
- Learning about customer preferences for gas and electricity
- Testing the effectiveness of potential messaging
Fewer Variables with In-Home User Testing vs. Surveys
In the past, SMUD achieved great success gathering customer insights via surveys. But the team knew that, this time, it needed to go one step further to gain the insights it was looking for in regard to its induction cooktop product innovation.
This was the first instance the Plugged In members were given the opportunity to test a physical product in their homes. By having community members test the technology firsthand, SMUD was able to receive insights that wouldn’t have been achievable through a typical survey format by rating a concept and sample targeting.
By using in-home user testing, SMUD was able to control the version and model of the cooktop the members tested, as well as the timing of the tests and the feedback mechanism. Compared to using the typical survey approach, this allowed the market research team to reduce variability in the testing experience and ultimately ensure the results were actionable.
The SMUD market research team now has a new approach to conducting research that creates actionable results, making the team a stronger partner in providing solid customer insights and information to the organization.
A Higher Level of Engagement
Plugged In members were very responsive to participate in this effort:
- In total, 464 members completed the initial recruitment (22% response rate).
- Among that group, 349 members successfully ordered their induction cooktops on the SMUD Energy Store and provided feedback on the findability and ordering experience (75% fulfillment rate).
- After using the portable induction cooktop in their homes, 287 members provided their feedback through an online survey (82% response rate).
- Six of the members also completed the video diary exercise.
These results are indicative of a high level of engagement among community members. Several members even contacted SMUD because they didn’t want to miss out on receiving the feedback survey.
Infusing Feedback in the Product Innovation Process
Having agile access to customer insights from highly engaged customers enabled SMUD to infuse valuable feedback in the product innovation process.
SMUD invited Plugged In members to test a new portable induction cooktop in their homes and to share their feedback on their experience through a survey and video diary. In the video diary exercise, respondents were asked to talk aloud about their experience using the induction cooktop while filming themselves using the cooktop in their own homes. The results showed customers liked the speed of heating, the ease of use, the fast pace of cooking, and the positive experience overall of using the cooktop.
Some of the comments included:
“I am impressed with the speed of the pan heating up, with the ability to change cooking temperatures quickly and easily, and the ease of cleanup!”
“This induction is the best invention ever. Cooktop is easy to use. I can make morning sandwiches in less time. Food tastes great and less clean up. Love this new way of cooking. I will never go back to regular cooking.”
“It’s almost like cooking with magic. It’s fast, responsive, and seems safer.”
The research also provided customer insight into how the induction cooktop compared to customers’ current stovetops (gas, electric coil, etc.), as well as how likely they would be to consider installing an induction cooktop in their homes in the future. By the end of the testing process, 83% indicated they were slightly or much more likely to consider purchasing an induction stove (if they needed to replace their current stoves) after trying the portable induction cooktop.
The initial results show a positive likelihood of adoption from Plugged In members who tested the induction cooktop, with 23% stating a positive impression of induction cooking before the trials and 91% stating a positive impression of induction after the trial.
The market research team can now build on the results of this research. Taking the results gathered so far, the team can assess other factors that would impact a customer’s decision to install an induction cooktop, such as price, product availability, rebate structures, potential energy savings, potential carbon emission reductions, etc.
Further, this multi-phase research effort enables SMUD to leverage each phase of feedback into the development of programs that support education among residential customers, including programs on how customers can lower carbon emissions in their homes, the benefits of using electricity over gas, and how those changes will impact the environment.
While stepping out of your comfort zone may be scary and require more work, when it comes to electrification, the reward is incredible. Switching from gas to electric cooking requires a change, but it can make a real difference to the environment. SMUD’s customers gave it a try with in-home user testing and reacted positively to this new way of cooking—and living.
Accelerate Product Innovation like SMUD
Testing new products with your customers can help your company not only accelerate innovation but also ensure you’re launching successful products that will make an impact. For SMUD, “making an impact” means reducing carbon emission in the environment.