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Featuring episode stars Claire Maiers, Jill Heinze, and Blake Sirach.

We can weather this storm — together.

Managing power outages can be frustrating, fear-inducing, and complicated.

In this episode of 2 Weeks to Better, our research and design teams bring energy and ingenuity to an increasingly sticky problem facing consumers and companies: how can we use technology to build community and connection amid power outages while monitoring economic and environmental impacts?

Unexpectedly, the episode was filmed against the backdrop of Hurricane Ian — the most destructive hurricane to hit Florida in nearly 100 years. Through rigorous discovery and research, user-centric frameworks, and participatory design sessions, our team created a three-part solution personalized to diverse devices and user demographics.

See how our digital experts plug into this unique and timely challenge.

Electric utility companies: we’ve got great energy.

And we want to work with you.
Let's connect
In two weeks, our team prototyped the fictional electric utility app “WillowTree Energy,” with features addressing the user journey before, during, and after a power outage occurs.


Energy Usage Monitor and Personal Residential Profile.

The way we interact with utilities doesn’t only happen on our phones, or when the power’s out. It happens every billing cycle (or every hour of every day for more environmentally-conscious consumers). Leveraging connected home devices like smart thermostats, the Energy Usage Monitor helps consumers set energy usage goals, monitor consumption, and easily track payments.

Utilities have been among the slowest adopters of digital customer engagement technology... and that is showing up in the form of sinking customer satisfaction scores.”
J.D. Power Utility digital experience study

The monitor is powered by the app's Personal Residential Profile, which allows users to customize tracking based on parameters such as home type (apartment vs. townhouse, for example), square footage, number of residents, and unique user needs.

When users feel isolated and uninformed, call center volume skyrockets. WillowTree Energy’s Proactive 360 Communication features ensure better communication in the early stages of an outage.

Our design and research teams put personalization and transparency at the foundation of our proposed product, which integrates across devices — phones, tablets, desktops, smart thermostats — and seamlessly incorporates an array of data and communications.

Even during outages, factors within a utility’s control — such as communication, clarity, and accessibility — impact 50% of customer satisfaction. In turn, by boosting customer satisfaction scores just 1 point, energy companies can decrease operating costs by $29 million annually.

Sources: McKinsey, “Transforming Customer Experience in Utilities” and The Journal of Marketing Research, “Customer Satisfaction and Firm Profits in Monopolies: A Study of Utilities”


Restoration Tracker and Community Outage Map.

Throughout our research phase, participants pointed to two missing pieces in the utility puzzle: community and communication. WillowTree Energy syncs with users’ contacts to call a community to action when outages occur.

We created in-app avenues for users to assess and report their unique situation to the utility and then share this status with contacts who could help during challenging circumstances — like medical emergencies or food shortages.

Residents can also track and receive real-time outage updates from power companies, understand how companies are prioritizing and triaging outages, and monitor contacts’ outages and needs to pitch in where help is needed.

“The opportunity to help people when they’re arguably at their most vulnerable — and at a huge scale? That’s one of the reasons why I do this work every day. It is critically important that we fulfill one another’s basic needs for electricity, safety, and connectedness with their community.”
Jill Stover Heinz profile photo
Jill Stover HeinzE, WillowTree Research director


Smart Grid Energy Management and Preparedness Checklist.

Those opportunities for communication and connection don’t end once the storm passes and power is restored. Users can track ongoing community status to ensure that their friends, family, and neighbors are safe.

Diverse in-app experiences educate and motivate users, as they encounter tips to reduce environmental impact or mechanisms to improve their billing experiences.

With Smart Grid Energy Management, users can also select fast vs. off-peak HVAC control to better manage the economics of how heat or cooling levels are restored to their home after an outage. And they can learn whether or not those post-storm energy selections place additional stress on the power grid.

We are always seeking ways to improve end users’ experiences — which translates into higher customer satisfaction scores and decreased company costs. That’s why the storm preparedness checklist helps the utility gather user data and ensures that residents are ready if the lights go out again.

“I’m proud that the product we’ve created could help so many people — and we created it over the course of a quick two-week sprint! That’s why I love this job. We’re all working to make people’s lives better.”
Jenny Xie profile photo
Jenny xie, WillowTree designer

Electric utilities: Let’s connect.

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