A few words for our utility friends

A few words for our utility friends

First, to all the power companies working so hard right now to restore power in Sandy’s aftermath, THANK YOU!

And though nobody likes to hear words of wisdom (aka preaching) at times like this, here’s a friendly reminder to all utilities from NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday:  “Millions are without power, but you can’t stop the Internet.”

Your customers may not have lights. But some of them have smartphones. And tablets. And car chargers to keep them powered. And as those customers are taking photos of the devastation, posting them to Facebook, keeping themselves updated on the latest weather and breaking news via any number of feeds, know that there’s a specific question running through some of their minds:

“How come my phone and Internet service still work, but I don’t have power?” Or, more bluntly, “What’s wrong with that stinkin’ power company?”

In all fairness, AT&T, Sprint, TMobile and others are also struggling with lost service … but the reports I’ve seen are that the lost service is spotty. So some consumers, in fact, have no power but their phone, Internet and cable are still working fine, thank you very much.

This is an ongoing challenge for electric utilities. End customer expectations have been driven higher by the instant gratification/always on nature of Internet and cell coverage: “We can find out the answer to any question about any topic in .08 seconds … so why is it my power company doesn’t actually know I’m without power? If I’m able to actually reach a human at my power company, why is it that she doesn’t know if there are trucks in my neighborhood working to restore my power? Why, in fact did I have to call the power company at all? Why aren’t they calling me to tell me they know I have a problem and to let me know what they’re doing about it?  And why exactly is it taking them so long to deal with this whole mess?”

I know, of course, there are actual answers to these questions, based on technological realities. But it’s a very real perception issue that hurts the likability and customer service reputation of electric utilities. Here are a few things utilities can do to address the issue:

  • Have a team of people manning your Twitter and Facebook presence 24/7 during a storm. Then tell your spokespeople to get on camera and direct people to Facebook and Twitter for constant updates, put the same message on your website homepage and on the automated message people get when they call your customer service center. And then make sure that the social media team posts all the latest info about outages, where the crews are, what’s happening and any ETA’s re restoration possible, and that they respond to every single customer who posts an inquiry. Proactivity and responsiveness are never more important than in a crisis.
  • Create an app that leverages the satellite tracking data in cell phones so users of the app can instantly notify you of outages and also allows you to push messages through to them.
  • Use automated calls to reach out to customers after their power is back on, thanking them for their patience and inviting them to call if they have any concerns.

There’s nothing worse than your Herculean restoration efforts going unnoticed.  A few proactive, unexpected efforts will go a long way towards creating a little gratitude.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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