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David Gaier's picture
Owner David Gaier PR

David Gaier is a communications professional, former spokesman for NRG Energy and PSEG Long Island, and consultant to energy advisory agencies. His 30+-year career includes crisis communications...

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  • Mar 23, 2020
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I'd never thought of COVID-19--nor had anyone else--when I wrote this, but many of these principles apply in all crisis communications. The COVID-19 Outbreak and its catastrophic effects on everyday life remind us that disasters strike, and preparedness is an imperative, not an option.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 23, 2020

With this specific situation, David, it seems like it'll be going longer than the typical utility crisis (hurricanes, wildfires, outages). How does the extended timeline and potential continued developments impact what sort of communications utilities should be having with their customers, if it does impact it at all?

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David Gaier on Mar 24, 2020

Matt, obviously at this time, having reliable electric service is more than important, and could be the difference between life and death. For patients at home who are already on respirators, dialysis, IV feeding, oxygen concentrators, and other devices, an extended power outage would add immeasurably to the current crisis. So, ensuring those customers are kept informed and contacted immediately in case of an extended outage is vital, and responded to as a priority in such cases.

And in today's situation, internal communications with employees is doubly important, in three ways: a) Knowing they're healthy and available to work, and so are dispatchable if necessary; b) Determining if they're not healthy, or may have been exposed, and therefore directed not to report to work and especially not to interact with customers; and c) Ensuring that if they are healthy and working, protocols are in place for how they interact with customers to protect those customers and themselves. 

Finally, companies should avoid putting out bland "we're here for you" statements, unless the company is actually offering something to help customers get through these difficult times. If a company isn't actually helping customers--such as giving them more time to pay a bill, or forgoing payments entirely for a period of time, or offering, say, additional bandwidth so that kids can do online classes, then saying "We're here for you" is nonsense...and insulting. And recognizing that their own operations and employees are affected, companies should make herculean efforts to staff up their ability for customers to get in touch and get real answers, whether through direct phone calls, Twitter, FB messaging, or online chats with actual humans, not these silly bots. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 24, 2020

Finally, companies should avoid putting out bland "we're here for you" statements, unless the company is actually offering something to help customers get through these difficult times. If a company isn't actually helping customers--such as giving them more time to pay a bill, or forgoing payments entirely for a period of time, or offering, say, additional bandwidth so that kids can do online classes, then saying "We're here for you" is nonsense...and insulting.

Very refreshing to hear, David, and I agree. It seems in the first week of the situation, every company who had ever had my email address (dog groomers, car dealers, etc.) were emailing me to let me know what they were doing. While it was good to know they were taking the situation seriously, it becomes a flood of information and if there was actually valid information (such as a utility offering assistance for those who are without work right now) then it might get lost. 

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David Gaier on Mar 27, 2020

Matt-one important thing that's NOT in the article, because "Coronavirus" didn't exist in the public consciousness if it existed anywhere, is what pandemic-related communications have been, or haven't but should be, issued by public agencies. Ratepayers don't know what NERC is (or care), or that the ISOs/RTOs even exist (or care about them either). They DO want to know that 1) They will have a reliable supply of electricity; and 2) does this pandemic have any effect on their customer service?

 For example here in NJ, the Board of Public Utilities issued three important orders affecting the energy sector and ratepayers: 

"All public utilities and regulated entities immediately cease any in-home or business visits unless there is an immediate risk to health and safety"

"Broadband internet providers may continue to connect new customers or repair existing service for homes with school-age children, those who need internet access to meet job requirements, or other priority customers, as defined by each company, provided that such visits should only be done as a last resort after utilizing hotspots, self-install kits, and like measures to minimize in-home visits; and

All door-to-door sales activity by third-party suppliers or other sales persons selling energy or energy-related products (for example: residential solar, community solar, or energy efficiency offerings) are to be suspended immediately.

 

  

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