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Easing Anxieties and Meeting Needs: Communications Tips During COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life across our society and economy.

Energy-company communicators are scrambling to keep up with the changes that are roiling our lives each day.

Doubtless some communicators are dismayed when they can’t find their crisis communications plan. Even worse would be a plan document that is outdated, filled with names of employees who retired years ago, and relying on faxes to communicate with the news media.

CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS TIPS

Even if you can’t find your communications plan, or you have an outdated one, you don’t have to panic. At a high level, communicating during a crisis follows a pretty consistent process:

  • During a crisis, people need more information, not less. When communicating with customers, it’s a good first step to put a banner on your website and post to social media platforms that your company is suspending disconnections and late-payment fees during the COVID-19 crisis. But, with so many people fearful of losing their jobs (or even their lives), how many will think to go to your website or your Facebook page? Consider using robocalls and/or text alerts, in addition to other forms of communication, to inform all your customers about the steps you are taking to support them during this difficult time.
     
  • Show what your company is doing to allay customers’ or employees’ concerns about losing their electric, water or gas service. While many of your employees could be working from home, we know that power plants and water-treatment plants don’t operate themselves. Work with your safety & health leaders to determine what activities the communications team can show customers. You can shoot still photographs or video while practicing safe distancing!
     
  • Now might be the perfect time to educate your customers about your company’s operations. With kids out of school and many parents working from home, can you think of a better time to put those “Electricity 101” videos online?
     
  • This might be a good time to innovate. A number of companies provide employees a certain amount of paid leave (sometimes as much as 80 hours every 12 months) to volunteer for a civic or charitable organization. Don’t let the current crisis go to waste! Now could be the right time to create, or improve, your employee volunteerism policy. Our most recent Subscriber Exclusive listed three non-traditional ways that energy companies and their employees could help their community. I’m sure that just scratches the surface. Whether it’s teletutoring school children, delivering meals to those who can’t leave their homes, giving blood or being a remote participant in your community’s COVID-19 information phone bank, there are plenty of civic and charitable needs your employees could help fill while at the same time giving visibility to the good works by your energy company’s employees.
     
  • Conduct a candid, thorough assessment of your communications team’s performance. Once the COVID-19 crisis ends, for instance, what worked? What needs to be fixed? What did we learn? Whether your team soared or sank, the COVID-19 crisis will show the importance of documenting, updating and practicing your crisis communications. Commit to conducting crisis communications drills on a regular basis. Professional and collegiate athletes practice the basics time and again to ensure that, when the pressure is on, they can execute flawlessly. Don’t your customers deserve the best too?

The post Easing Anxieties and Meeting Needs: Communications Tips During COVID-19 appeared first on Egan Energy.

John Egan's picture

Thank John for the Post!

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Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 6, 2020 1:31 pm GMT

Now might be the perfect time to educate your customers about your company’s operations. With kids out of school and many parents working from home, can you think of a better time to put those “Electricity 101” videos online?

This is such a great idea, and not one I've seen people talking about in things that utilities can/should be doing. Surely this might be the time when some of your employees have more time to dive into something like this, and with many parents struggling on the school from home front it could be the perfect time. Who knows, maybe you inspire the next utility professional of tomorrow!

John Egan's picture
John Egan on Apr 6, 2020 4:28 pm GMT

Thanks -- we can hope!

mark wilkinson's picture
mark wilkinson on Apr 7, 2020 4:52 pm GMT

I agree with most of your suggestions, but woudn't recommend robocalls as a communication tool, especially in the current climate.  Robocalls have become a primary resource for cyberscams, and utility customers are a major focus currently in COVID related robocall scams.  Cyber criminals launch robocalls with a message that "your account may be turned off for non-payment unless you call this number, now..."  Customers who return the call have their credit card and SSNs stolen, and utility customers have been a prime target with COVID-19 potentially causing reduced income or unemployment.  Our team has been warning our utility clients to use TXT and email to warn their customers about these robocall scams.

Generally speaking, robocall programs may tarnish a utility's reputation unless perfectly executed, and we all know how hard it is to do anything perfectly in response to a crisis.  

Just my two cents.  Great article.

John Egan's picture
John Egan on Apr 8, 2020 4:31 pm GMT

Hi Mark,

I get it about robocalls and scams. And I like your idea of texting, assuming the CIS has a customer's cell number (often a problem).

All I was suggesting was a 10-second recorded message to all customers that "late fees/disconnections will be suspended for all who need them during the COVID-19 crisis, and if you need to make alternate payment arrangements, pls contact us through the website." I wan't recommending providing a number for transacting business on the phone. I know many utilities have suspended late payments and disconnections, and have done a generally good job placing notices to that effect on their websites and social media platforms. But if a customer is gripped with fear over unemployment, unable to pay their bills, I'm not sure they would check their utility's website/social media platforms. 

Thanks for reading and sharing!

John

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