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Communication With Customers Is Key During a Power Outage

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Megan Nichols's picture
Freelance Technical Writer Self-Employed

Megan Ray Nichols is the editor of Schooled By Science, a blog dedicated to breaking down current complex scientific discussions into the vernacular. She loves writing about the latest...

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  • Jan 14, 2019

A wide range of complications can result in an electrical power outage. Environmental stressors like wind and rain, mismanagement of distribution lines, and generator impairments all have the potential to leave customers in the dark, without the energy they need for devices and appliances.

During these stressful periods when repairs are underway, communication is indispensable to a company's reputation. According to a 2017 survey by J.D. Power, an increase in outage communications was one of the primary reasons behind the rise in customer approval throughout the industry.

Customers want to know what caused the outage, as well as an estimation for when their power will return. They appreciate when a utility shows awareness of the problem. This simple act of acknowledgment — of taking responsibility — is often enough to alleviate a customer's anxiety.

Preparation, updates and restoration are vital parts of communication efforts. Through viewing the subject holistically, utility managers and professionals need a comprehensive understanding of power outage protocol.

Preparing for a Power Outage

Utilities can streamline communication during a power outage by taking a proactive approach. Managers should provide push alerts via text, email and automated voice messages to update their customers with accurate information concerning the outage. In this way, they preempt complaints and deflect calls.

Managers should also research predictive push alerts, a system that sends outage notifications to affected customers even when they don't decide to make a report. These notifications are available as automated voice messages, which are presently the most popular option, though text alerts are seeing greater use.

When a utility anticipates its customers' needs, it's taking the initiative to ensure they are satisfied. To lay the groundwork for proactive communication, utility companies need to contact their customers at the start of the summer and winter storm seasons. They should inform them of their services, including outage text alerts, maps and general safety tips to remember if the power fails.

Providing Accurate Updates

It's evident from research and surveys that customers want outage communications. Utilities integrating these communications have seen high levels of satisfaction and impressive approval ratings through outage alerts. That said, it isn't as simple as a template and a few lines of text, as interaction is often nuanced.

Utilities need to assess the cause of the power outage, but they also need to determine its scale, the affected areas and an estimation of when customers will see their power restored. These customers depend on utility professionals to update them with information relevant to their specific circumstances.

To provide context, 61 percent of customers expect an estimate on restoration within the first 15 minutes of making their report. If the lights come on even 10 minutes after a utility company's projected restoration, customers are often displeased with the inaccuracy of the information they received.

It's true that customers want communication, but they want communication they can trust. When an hour of downtime can cost an organization over $100,000, knowing when the electricity will return isn't a luxury. For both homeowners and business owners, accurate updates are a necessity.

Recovering Post-Restoration

Once a storm has passed and a utility company has restored its customers' power, communication hasn't concluded. It still has a responsibility — however redundant — to inform customers that they've addressed the issue. Additionally, it should thank these customers for their patience.

It's essential to remember power outages affect more than refrigerated food and home appliances. Data centers, medical facilities and financial corporations all entrust utility companies to provide power for their equipment, and if it ceases to function, they can sustain heavy losses.

With this in mind, restoration is an excellent opportunity for utilities to improve their practices. They should evaluate the efficiency of their outage communications program against objectives they've set, like a reduction in call center inquiries, and leverage what they learn to refine their strategy.

Here are three questions utility managers should ask post-restoration:

  • What channels should we offer our customers?
  • When should we send alerts during an outage?
  • How many alerts should we send per outage?

Higher Satisfaction and Approval Ratings

A utility manager has to consider preparation, updates and post-restoration protocol as they develop their outage communications program. Each of these three elements is of equal importance, and neglecting to consider small details like update/outage map consistency or follow-up messages can compromise a company's credibility. Even a 10-minute differential between an estimate and restoration is enough to irritate customers.

Utility professionals should make a concerted effort to improve their policies. Whether they implement predictive push alerts, place a greater focus on accuracy in their updates or amend flaws in their strategy after a storm, they're taking steps toward higher satisfaction and approval ratings. More than that, they're ensuring their customers are calm and informed during all the stages of an outage.

Scott Karlin's picture
Scott Karlin on Jan 16, 2019

Great post!  Interacting with many Utility and Energy Companies in our course of business -- from this vantage point, preferred communication channel is a key topic for 2019 -- and beyond.   Outage updates are very important indeed -- and can drive a higher level of satisfaction and meet customer expectation.  Peeling back one more layer as a starting point begs the the question "what percentage of your customer base uses a mobile device to communicate with you versus a landline?"    Curious to hear what the consenus direction is in this group.  Is it 40%?  50%?   75%?  Higher?  Lower?     Post your guesstimate!

Megan Nichols's picture
Thank Megan for the Post!
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