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Transform the Customer Experience with a Mobile-Optimized Outage Map

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Laura Gousha's picture
Vice President of Engagement Mindgrub

I am the Vice President of Engagement at Mindgrub Technologies, a Baltimore based technology consulting firm that provides strategic solutions for the utility industry. My expertise is in digital...

  • Member since 2020
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  • Feb 24, 2020 12:30 pm GMT

It comes as no surprise that mobile internet usage has been (and continues to be) on the rise. Mobile traffic has increased by over 200% in just five years and now accounts for more than 50% of all sessions.

People are doing more from their phones than ever before, and in accordance with this shift, customers have come to expect their utility to deliver a truly frictionless mobile experience.  

One of the most important features utilities can offer their mobile app users is outage reporting and communications.

Logically speaking, customers are far more likely to consult a mobile device during outages than a television or desktop computer (both of which depend on electricity). Because of this, it’s important to make sure your outage management system is optimized for mobile use.

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Here are some the benefits you can expect from a mobile outage map:

- Improved customer satisfaction

If your customers can't figure out how to report an outage from their phone, they're going to be even more frustrated than they likely already are. An outage map keeps people informed and lets them know they aren’t alone, which can provide a sense of comfort and relief during a frustrating time. 

- Simpler and faster restoration operations

Rather than relying on information from an individual dispatcher, crews can access information at scale directly from app users, including the location, cause, and potential solutions for the disruption in service. This increases efficiency and leads to another benefit for customers: faster restoration times.

- Ability to incorporate calls to action 

With a mobile outage map, you can easily insert powerful, highly-relevant calls to action into the customer experience. For instance, you can encourage users to sign up for outage alerts with a simple push notification. The more users who opt into alerts, the more informed your customer base will be during critical customer service incidents in the future.

- Reduction in call center volume

By making it convenient to check the status of an outage from the app, customers won't need to phone into your call center during a disruption in service.  

Mobile map design challenges

As anyone who works in user experience design will tell you, maps can be a particularly challenging feature to optimize for mobile. Let’s look at a few of the reasons why this is the case.

- Screen size

Maps provide a wealth of information, including the names of nearby businesses, street names and types, traffic conditions, terrain, and more. All of that helpful information can quickly clutter a six-inch display, leading to cognitive overload. 

- Controls 

Think about how you interact with a map on the computer. You can left-click, right-click, hover, click and drag, scroll, and use the keyboard. With a phone’s touchscreen, you lose most of those capabilities. 

- Toolbars

A legend, guide, or toolbar can provide instructions for navigating a digital map, but incorporating one will take up more of your already-limited screen real estate.

- Touchpoints

Smartphone touchscreens vary in their levels of sensitivity and responsiveness. It can be challenging to click on a small, specific pinpoint on a map, especially if the map is crowded with other “tappable” elements.

- Slow networks

Interactive map functionality requires a lot of computing power and is typically integrated with several other systems. Slow network speeds can cause delays in the time it takes the map to adjust to your users’ gestures. 

Creating a User-Friendly Mobile Map

Challenges aside, it is absolutely possible to create a mobile map that not only works, but also transforms the outage experience for your customers. Here are six practices to keep in mind when creating a strategy for your mobile outage map:

- Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

A lot of the dissatisfaction that customers report during an outage stems from a very human feeling of powerlessness. Giving those users the ability to report and track the status of their power outage gives them a sense of control over the situation. 

Keeping customers informed and creating convenient avenues for two-way communication are two valuable ways for a utility company to show customers that they genuinely care.

- Design for mobile first.

Gone are the days of altering your desktop design to fit on a mobile device. Nowadays, it’s best practice to design for mobile first and then adapt that design for desktop. With the majority of worldwide traffic coming from mobile devices, why wouldn’t you? 

People devote less time and attention to interactions on a mobile device; they’re more likely to multitask and exhibit higher rates of distraction. Therefore, the mobile outage map experience should be lightweight, transactional, and friction-free.

When it comes to critical functionality, you want your mobile website or mobile app to be at least as good - if not better - than your website. Otherwise, your users will revert to other modes of communication, like social media and call centers.

- Make it easy to get help and “don’t block the exit.” 

One of the common best practices in digital user experience is to make it as intuitive as possible for users to navigate into and out of every element. Conduct user testing to avoid designing features that a user won’t be able to figure out how to use (or may find themselves stuck inside).   

- Don’t overwhelm your map with buttons and toolbars.

When you’re working with a small screen size, every bit of space counts. You want your map and its controls to work together, not to fight each other. The user interface should support what’s on the map without taking away or covering up vital map data. 

One way to do this is by creating an element that allows the user to hide or minimize any controls, so they’re out of the way when not in use, but still easily accessible.

- Keep accessibility in mind.

It’s important to ensure that everyone is able to use your mobile site or app, especially customers with a physical or intellectual disability. 

For instance, will a user with a visual impairment be able to glean any information from your map? Consider how you can provide those users with an audible representation of the information you want to share. In this case, an alternative method of presenting outage information, such as a chart or a written report, can easily be scanned and spoken aloud with the help of a screen reader. 

- Prioritize simplicity.

It may be tempting to get creative with gesture controls. For example, you could tell users to triple tap to drop a pin or to draw a circle with two fingers to rotate the map. New technology is empowering companies to create out-of-the box experiences, but it’s especially important for utilities to be selective in how they choose to innovate.

The bottom line is: The most successful user experiences incorporate the familiar, and only a few types of mobile gestures are common. 

Take advantage of familiar map interaction paradigms that people use in other map applications. Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps are all used widely enough that they are a reliable indication of what users expect out of the experience. 

You’ll have a more user-friendly map if you keep it simple and intuitive, rather than if you create your own set of original gestures.

The power of the mobile channel

According to Chartwell’s 2018 Residential Consumer Survey, while 96% of utilities have an online outage map, only 39% of customers are aware of them. The same study found that customers who were aware of their utility’s digital outage map reported an 8% increase in satisfaction.

Bringing that functionality to the mobile format can ensure that more of your customers will find and reference your outage map instead of calling customer service.

Don’t leave your customers in the dark. 

A mobile outage map puts more self-service capabilities in the hands of your audience, transforming what could be a wholly negative experience into one that reinforces customer loyalty.

Laura Gousha's picture
Thank Laura for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 24, 2020

According to Chartwell’s 2018 Residential Consumer Survey, while 96% of utilities have an online outage map, only 39% of customers are aware of them. The same study found that customers who were aware of their utility’s digital outage map reported an 8% increase in satisfaction.

This is the meat of it, IMO-- putting effort in these things only has so much effect as customers are aware of and use them, but that 8% increase show how beneficial it is. My utility will text me when there's an outage and give an estimate of how long before my power is restored, but if they included a link to an online map to track the progress I would definitely use that!

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