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Customer Communication Is a Key Component of Emergency Response

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Karen Marcus's picture
Freelance Researcher and Writer Final Draft Communications, LLC

In addition to serving as an Energy Central Community Manager, Karen Marcus has nearly 25 years of experience as a content developer within the energy and technology industries. She has worked...

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When a storm hits and customers lose power, utility companies make restoring service their number-one priority, diverting all available resources to getting customers back online as quickly as possible. Naturally, this is what customers want. But, there’s something else they want that utilities may overlook: clear communication about what’s happening.

While sending out updates may sometimes seem unnecessary, especially when you don’t yet have all the information about when power will be restored, not doing so can alienate customers and diminish their positive customer experience with your company.

Develop a Plan

As with most emergencies, the best approach is to make a plan before it happens. Take the time to work out a communication strategy that can be deployed during outages. Take into consideration four main components: what customers will want to know, how they will want to access information, what they should do if they have questions that aren’t answered by your messages, and who will be responsible for each messaging component.

What they want to know could include items like:

  • What caused the damage
  • How widespread the damage is
  • What is being done to repair the damage
  • How long repairs are expected to take
  • How to submit questions or express concerns

Access to information could be via email, through your website or app, on social media, or with voice mail alerts. It’s also critical to put out a press release or otherwise inform the media, since that’s another outlet that customers might be looking for information from. The more channels of communication, the better, since customers will have different habits for where they like to get information. When planning this stage you may come across areas that need to be developed such as a voice mail alert system.

The plan should also include the people responsible for each element of the communication process. It could be one individual who creates a press release, posts on Twitter and Facebook, and responds to email inquiries. Or it could be multiple people. The specific arrangement will depend on the size and skills of your staff and the size of your customer base.

Communicate Early and Often

Even if you don’t yet know all the details listed above, send out alerts to let customers know what you do know, and to reassure them you’re doing everything you can to find out more and to get the issue resolved. To avoid broken promises or misleading statements, use phases like, “Here’s what we know now,” or, “This situation is unfolding, and we’ll provide updates as they occur.” Avoid using specifics in terms of when power will be restored; instead refer to broad timeframes such as “a matter of hours.”

Jessica Porter, writing for American Public Power Association, states, “During outages, utilities should provide frequent updates through social media and the web, even if it’s just to say crews are still working on the issue. Communicate what you know and don’t know, what you’re doing to resolve the issue, and how you’re finding information — be honest and transparent.”

Of course the best communication starts well before an emergency even happens. Customers who see that your company cares under normal circumstances will be more likely to turn to and trust your messaging efforts during a storm. So, while you’re developing a storm communications plan, take the opportunity to also review your business-as-usual plan. Use all the same tools (email, social media, your website or app, and the media) to share information about how you’re meeting energy efficiency goals and helping customers do the same, as well as other topics that are important to your customers and your community.

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