United's Website Continuously Evolving to Offer
New Information, Better Online Experience to Members
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part in a series on United’s website enhancement.
Astute members who have enjoyed the redesign of www.united-cs.com may already have found the addition of several new online features.
Following the January launch of United’s redesigned website, the co-op’s communications department has continued improving user experience with recent upgrades to several areas of the website.
Mauri Montgomery, vice president of media and community relations, said the overall redesign has increased visitor traffic, as the website recently hit a new record for monthly users in May. For the first time, the website had more than 19,500 users, eclipsing a former record of about 16,000 in February 2018, according to Google Analytics.
“Though we’re only a few months into the redesign, it’s clear the decision to do so was a wise choice,” he said. “Beyond being a more contemporary representation of what United is today, the redesign provides our members a much clearer, more concise and user-friendly experience all the way around. The initial redesign was our largest step forward in improving our online presence and enhancing our virtual front door. However, we’re definitely not done with continuing to adapt, advance and expand our content to make it even better.”
While interest in the recent launch of a High-Speed Broadband Internet page helped drive a recent increase in the site’s visits, the new site’s ability to interface with all of the co-op’s communications platforms, as well as overall increased ease of use has drawn more interest from web surfers.
The new platform is superior to the old one when it comes to its nearly seamless integration with mobile devices, and analytics show that makes a difference.
About 49 percent of users are visiting the site with a mobile phone and 45 percent use a desktop computer. Prior to the face-lift, mobile devices accounted for about 40 percent of total accesses to the site and 55 percent was from computers.
Making the website more user-friendly for mobile devices was critical in keeping pace with today’s digital user preferences as a whole, Montgomery said.
“These days, we carry our lives in our pockets,” he said. “We need to be available to our members while they’re on the move, and all the data shows that mobile devices are quickly becoming the medium of choice. The best part is that the mobile experience, while compressed, looks the same as the laptop experience. So you can switch back and forth between laptop and mobile view and not get lost.”
New Start to Careers Page
New United job applicants will benefit from the addition of a new career orientation page, which was a primary objective in 2019, Montgomery said.
“Enticing new talent that may be entering the workforce to come to our web page, and then getting them to understand who we are at our core is essential,” he said. “We needed to find a way to display our co-op’s progressive approach to electric service delivery and give potential recruits a quick primer on who we are, why we do what we do and also an opportunity to hear from some outstanding employees who are already growing their careers here. I think what we created meets that criteria, and it will serve in the future as a convenient hub for those seeking new career opportunities with us.”
United has had more openings in the last five years due to retirements, said Heather Wigington, a human resources specialist.
At the same time, the co-op’s human resources team has become more savvy in how the department seeks new employees. Those adaptations have resulted in an exponential increase in the number of applicants from the local, regional and even national levels.
In such a tight job market, she said it is important to entice the right employees to take a look at United, and the careers page on the website plays a large role in that objective.
“Changing jobs is a life event, and we want potential employees to have a good feel for who we are before they ever apply,” Wigington said. “At United, we consider our employees as more than coworkers. We are a big family. A career page that gives a realistic perspective of not only the interview process but also of our overall culture invites prospects to invest in the application process. We are continually looking for diverse and innovative people to help us provide exceptional service and value to our growing membership.”
Relocating Pennies from Heaven
When members join a cooperative, electric bills are not just payments for service, but an investment in a company in which members earn equity.
Member-owners of United not only have a voice in selecting co-op governance— the membership also shares in cooperative margins. After all operating costs have been paid for the fiscal year, members may receive a portion of any excess margins, which comes with the return of member dividends.
Member dividends accumulate based on the amount of electricity used by each member.
Each year, United’s board of directors may vote to retire a portion of these dividends, based on the fiscal needs of the cooperative.
The problem is that the total amount of unclaimed dividends in the past three years stands at $3 million, said Landy Bennett, chief administrative officer.
“The member dividends don’t belong to us, they belong to our members,” Bennett said. “Sometimes members move away, sometimes we don’t have a forwarding address, and so we’re not able to return the money to the member. The Member Dividends page features a searchable database where current or past members can go to see if they have outstanding member dividends coming to them. It’s not going to make them rich, but we’d rather they have it than send it to the state.”
After four years, uncollected member dividends are sent to the State of Texas as unclaimed property, Bennett said. The website also features a link to the state’s web page to search for unclaimed dividends older than four years.
“People can search a name or a business,” he said. “It’s very easy to use, and we wanted to make it that easy so that more members would take advantage of it and maybe share it on social media.”