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Helping residents of a housing community, efficiently request emergency services. 

The Prompt:

A great residential community provides a variety of amenities and a dedicated staff responsible for its maintenance. But there isn’t always an easy way for community members to report problems to management so they can be resolved quickly.

Design a system for a community of your choice, so members can report issues and track their resolutions. Show your process and how you arrived at your solution. Please include a sequence of high-fidelity mocks from your design solution.

Introduction:

For the exercise, I selected Presidential Towers, which is a multi-tower residential apartment complex in downtown Chicago.

 

It has 2208 individual condominiums, occupied by people from diverse demographics. We will call Presidential Towers as PT for this project.

The Presidential Towers in the West Loop, Chicago.

Research -Phase I:

To narrow down the scope of the problem,
I started with secondary research around services offered to the residents of PT and the different channels that the residents use
for activities around the complex. It helped me identify the primary stakeholders and the experience of availing a service. I also made a mind-map and a connection diagram by using all this information which helped me see the gaps in the big picture.

Resident Services office at the Presidential Towers.

Mind map showing the interplay of services offered.

Connections diagram to further understand the operations.

Presidential Tower's Resident Portal's maintenance request portal - Form

Presidential Tower's Resident Portal's maintenance request portal - Request History

Findings:

 

Any maintenance service request can be submitted via:
 

1) Online: presidentialtowers.com resident portal.

  • There is no method of requesting emergency service for the apartment on the web.

  • The user cannot track the status of the request except if it is
    completed or not.

  • Current request and history are combined in a single "Request History" tab which may be confusing for the user.
     

2) Onsite: in person and by telephone -Resident Services:

  • Available Monday to Saturday, 8:00 AM- 8.00 PM

  • Only accepts work orders for maintenance service. Even
    emergency service is accepted as a maintenance work order.

  • No accuracy in the estimate of response time given.

 

Note: Currently there is no mobile application of any sorts available for the Presidential Tower residents.

Research -Phase II:

Since this project had a short turnaround time, I decided to limit to ethnographic interviews as the primary research method. I started with
a grounded theory approach to pinpoint the problem.

 

Interview participants: 3 residents, 1 Presidential tower staff from Service Desk and 1 Presidential Tower Staff at Resident Services

Stories:

Heejung Wee - Resident,

“Once I went to the reception to collect a dinner order delivery at around 10.00 pm. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my keys and was locked out of my apartment. I was stranded outside my house for more than one hour to wait for the staff who would help me get in, only because the staff at the service desk could not get in touch with the key guy. It was very frustrating.”

Krish Shetty - Resident

“The heating system had stopped working in our apartment one day during the polar vortex last month. We called the service desk four times before somebody came. Every time they said that someone would be there in the next 30 minutes. I would have gone to my friend’s place rather than freezing in the cold, had I known that it would take this long.”

Learnings from resident interviews:
 

  • Residents find the services offered by the Resident Services Office efficient.

  • It gets difficult to get help from the Resident Services outside service hours. In such cases, residents have to report issues to the 24/7 service desk which is essentially the building’s reception, not as quick as Resident Services.

  • There is no way for the residents to track their service request online, on the phone or in person.
     

Julie - PT Resident Service Staff

"It becomes difficult when there are more than 2 or 3 residents with any complaints. We cannot provide exact time about when will their problem be solved and that makes some people anxious. This is because we do not have any system; we can only call the service providers, which is not always possible"

Learnings from the staff interview:

 

  • The major bulk of the time that takes in solving a resident’s problem is because the service request processing is done manually by the people at the Resident Service Office. Co-ordinating between the resident and the service provider staff is also a time taking process.

  • Giving an estimate of time to the resident for the service to be resolved is not possible because it is hard to keep track of the provider staff.

  • The service provider staff can be in any tower at a particular given time, and the only way to locate them is by a phone call, which may not be effective if they are in elevator or basement.

Design Principles based on the learnings:

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Enable the residents to quickly and easily report the emergency issues.

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Help the residents to get an estimate of time before the issue is resolved.

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Enable direct communication between the residents and service provider staff.

Final Problem Statement:

For the scope of this project, I decided to solve the problem for the edge case scenario of emergency cases outside Resident service office hours:

 

How might we help the Presidential Tower's residents to quickly report and track emergency issues, which occur outside the Resident Service Office hours, while directly connecting residents and staff to optimize the service time?

The Proposal

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Users: PT residents

Scenario: An emergency situation related to PT resident's apartment unit or the property.

Solution: A mobile application for residents to quickly report and track emergency issues.

Opportunity in the current system:

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Proposal: There is an opportunity to replace the middle channel with a mobile application to optimize the system.

The solution -Resident Emergency Application:

Initial sketches and wireframes:

I made sketches of the emergency application flow for residents and after some iterations, quickly mocked up the wireframes using Figma and Marvel. I used the app flow sketch and the mockup to test the idea with residents whom I had interviewed.

Application flow and feedback

Sketch prototype testing

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Wireframe-prototype

Findings:

 

  • The flow is easy to follow for users.

  • Residents may not want to install an application in their phone for occasional use.

  • The number of steps can be reduced further.

  • Language needs to be more clear.

  • The user may not always remember their user id or password

  • Just providing the phone number of the service provider may not work.

 

Note: This feature could have been a part of a full-fledged mobile application that provides the residents with access to other services which is currently offered by the online Resident Portal available for desktop web browsers. No mobile application for the PT residents exists presently.

Tweaked solution proposal:

  • A web app for the residents of the Presidential Towers, which can be accessed via phone or the computer. 

  • Easy to remember URL, example: (ptemergency.com or pt.emergency.com, etc.)

  • Link also available on the online resident portal as well as home-page of presidentialtowers.com

Final web-application flow:

Based on the findings from the user testing of sketch prototype and the tweaked solution proposal, I refined the designs. Below is the flow of the web application:

Flow 1 > New emergency request

Flow 2 > Track current request

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The resident emergency web application can be accessed by a simple URL (example: ptemergency.com) or through links present on the presidentialtowers.com website or the online resident portal. 

 

The homepage is kept simple and focussed with only two buttons for submitting a request and tracking request.

 

The user does not need to log in using his resident portal user ID anytime. They can use their phone number and one-time password to create request and track their emergency requests. This reduces the cognitive load on the user, of remembering the user id and password as well as makes the process faster. 

 

Using just their phone number also helps the users to put emergency requests even if they are not using their primary phone, and still be able to track the request easily. Also, users can also put in a request for others if required.

 

If the user is using their primary phone, their record gets automatically pulled up, and the request is added to their resident portal account.

 

Users get the information of the service provider through the tracking section.  They can also contact the staff via phone, text or PT Chat service. I am proposing PT Chat service, an online messenger for locations in the building where there is no cellular service but there is wifi access.

 

 

Web-app demo

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Web-app demo

Visual design:

Instead of using material design language I decided to go with the design language and colors of The Presidential Tower website and resident portal, with which the residents already identify with. This makes the visual

experience seamless.

 

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Visual design moodboard

Final thoughts, further steps:

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For this web app to work in harmony, there has to be another application to be built for the other side, that is the service provider staff.

 

 

 

Proposal:
A mobile application for the service provider staff that will help them to directly receive service requests from residents and keep track of issues received and completed. It will also help them to be connected with the residents through previously proposed PT Chat service.

 

A mobile application will be more suitable for staff providers because they will use it regularly. 

 

Suggestions for Presidential Towers: 

There can be a mobile application for the residents which can be used to pay rent, avail maintenance services and incorporate the features of this web application. Having a more extensive feature set will help in adoption because of convenience and frequent usage.