How we delivered a real-time fault notification and reporting experience

  • Business case development & strategy lead
  • Journey mapping
  • User requirements documentation
  • Workshop facilitation
  • User research and testing
  • Prototyping
  • Form UX

Timing: 2014 – 2016

The Challenge

SA Water’s delivered a consistently high rated services through its on-site in-bound contact centre. However, a growing by number of customers were requesting digital self-service options and better, more proactive communication when something went wrong. This included disruptions to their water supply and waste removal as well as issues like leaking meters or burst pipes. SA Water needed to find a way to replicate the fantastic service provided in the contact centre within a digital environment and improve the real-time communication it delivered to customers.

Service Design Goal (from the Digital Strategy)

My role and approach

The driver to improve these services came initially out of SA Water’s  Digital Strategy Program submission to the economic regulator. My role started as author of this strategy and the business cases that supported it and then unfolded as Product Manager and Customer Experience lead. I worked with UI/ UX Designers (mostly external contractors), SME’s and business leads across the business. Once solutions were defined they were mostly handed over to digital project teams and external contractors who undertook further UX/ UI design, software development and project delivery. At this time SA Water hadn’t yet adopted a fully agile approach to project delivery so one of my challenges was bringing user-centered design into an established, and complex waterfall delivery methodology.

The process was broken down into the following stages:

1. Discovery – collating what customers had already told us

At the start of this process customers were really clear on the problems that they needed solved. I felt it would bedisingenuousto go back to them with an open-ended discovery session and so I focussed on distilling and mapping what we already knew so that we could better define where to focus our efforts first. I pulled together a range of different insights and data that included:

  • Initial Digital Strategy research and user needs mapping (much of this had also been informed by the below)
  • Customer complaints and feedback logged through our call centre
  • Social media complaints and feedback
  • Anecdotal evidence from front-line staff
  •  Customer research undertaken by our engagement team to inform SA Water’s first regulatory business proposal

Fault reporting and resolution was a complex process and involved multiple teams, legacy systems, process and technology to work seamlessly together. There was a risk, due to this complexity, the project would fail before it even got started if it was tackled in one hit. To reduce this risk I broke it down into two core problems that we needed to solve.

  • How might we create an online fault reporting services that replicated the things people love about talking directly to call centre staff?
  • How might we deliver real-time fault notifications so customers have the latest information on issues impacting them?


2. Define – prioritising user needs

Insights gained from the above were then prioritised. As part of this process I also introduced some new research via an online survey and local market research agency who were running some customer focus groups on a range of other topics. I was able to include some questions about fault reporting and communications to test some hypotheses we were beginning to develop. The research challenged some of these and helped us further define our focus. For example:

  • We assumed customers would be happy to report all faults online – this was not the case. The more severe the fault the more they wanted to speak to a real person. Based on this insight we immediately deprioritised online fault reporting for severe faults including large water main bursts or any issue that could damage buildings or injure people and animals.
  • Another big insight that came up was around the need for choice – rather than just picking one channel to deliver alerts, customers wanted to be able to choose the one that suited them.
  • Customers also saw faults differently to SA Water. Metal plates or fireplug leaks were deprioritised by SA Water due to minimal risk and water loss whereas customers educated during drought to be worried about any wasted water were distressed seeing these leaks unattended.

3. Develop – deciding what to focus on first and defining our MVP

We need to define 2x beta services to go live with – one for reporting faults and one to better communicate how we were managing faults.

Fault reporting:

We chose to create a service that would allow customers to report a leaking meter for three key reasons:

  • It was the most common fault experienced by residential customers
  • It something that they felt a strong emotional connection too as it was occurring on their property
  • They could easily monitor it due to its proximity
Fault notifications

We knew that SMS notifications was something customers wanted but which was much more complicated to implement across SA Water’s systems and process so we identified two channels we could launch with minimal effort:

  • Automated, real-time twitter and for bursts, leaks and outages
  • A new, real-time notification services for serious leaks, faults and outages on the website

4. Delivery – putting it all together

Our form UX was based on guidance from the UK’s Government Digital Service however, to increase accessibility and understanding for our diverse audience, we added in images as well as text to describe different scenarios and equipment. The end-result was a simple, really easy to use and helpful form that guided user through each step (visit it here).

To enable these new services to be developed we also to get the supporting systems, processes and people to better integrate.

I coached and supported the digital team to lead their first journey mapping workshop with staff from across the business including operations, digital and customer services teams to identify how the new services would work, what processes needed to be changed and how the impacted teams might be trained.

We then redesigned workflows and processes between teams to enable the change and invited them to provide ongoing feedback on what was/ wasn’t working.


Impact and value

We delivered new services that customers wanted to use

Our initial annual targets for customer migration to the new fault reporting and notification services were exceeded in the first six months after launch. Take up of online forms for reporting leaking meters was the most successful of these services with 35% of all reports coming from the website after 6 months.

I built design capacity and leadership across the digital and customer service teams

As part of a broader program to introduce user-centered design to SA Water, this project helped bring front-line staff and internal project teams together to ‘do design’. I coached the digital team to take over facilitation of journey mapping workshops for the first time and supported them in an advisory role to apply design tools. By the end of this project the business leads were comfortable engaging customers, interpreting their insights and were proudly advocating the importance of a human-centered design approach.


Images shows four people looking at butcher's paper stuck to wall in a workshop
Facilitating a design workshop to identify design principles for the new services
New website notification service