Power outages and malfunctions are a fact of life for utility companies — an annoying and very expensive fact.
Weather-related power outages alone cost the U.S. an annual $25 billion to $55 billion, says government energy policy specialist Richard Campbell in a recent report to the U.S. Congress. And that’s not accounting for everything else that can go wrong.
“While the U.S. electric grid has operated historically with a high level of reliability, the various parts of the electric power system are all vulnerable to failure due to natural, operational or man-made events,” Campbell notes. “Power outages can result from floods or seasonal storms, which often combine the furies of wind, rain, snow or ice. Other impairment or failure of the grid can potentially result from attacks, terrorism or even extremes of space weather.”
No one knows that better than consumers, but that doesn’t mean they’re always patient and understanding when waiting for their electricity, gas or water to get back to normal. Fortunately, customer communication best practices for relaying such issues to the public are improving such outcomes for savvy utility companies.
Even better, tech tools such as the Swift911 Emergency Notification System offered by SwiftReach can save utility companies considerable time, money and effort. Not only can they improve public safety by informing customers immediately about any threats, but they can be used year-round for non-crisis customer communications such as maintenance tips and payment reminders.
Some other suggestions for utility companies wishing to improve customer communication:
- In planning for power outages and other contingencies, form customer communication strategies around four stages — prevention, preparation, response and recovery — and what customers need to know at each stage.
- Craft sample messages before outages occur; you can always adapt them afterward. Vet the messages with staff at different levels to be sure they’re on point and appropriate.
- Form strategies around two-way customer communication instead of just one-way notification. Since the growth of mobile apps, consumers expect to be able to comment and ask questions, and many want continual updates as circumstances evolve.
- Establish ahead of time who on your staff will carry out which part of your customer communication strategy.
- Speed is important during emergency situations, but when uncertainty is involved, it’s better to admit that than spread untruths. Inform customers that the facts are being investigated and you’ll get back to them when the company knows more.
- Emphasize positive outcomes and what your company is doing to remediate issues — not what it’s unable to do.
- Evaluate your customer communication process once problems have been remediated. Was it effective? What could you do differently next time?
When it comes to preparing consumers for utility issues, forewarned is forearmed.
“In any discussion of extended power outages, two prominent themes emerge — preparation and recovery,” Campbell notes. “Recovery can be hastened, and the amount of damage to electric power infrastructure minimized, if good maintenance, restoration, organization and communications strategies are followed on an ongoing basis.”
Talk to SwiftReach about implementing emergency notification tools that can help you improve customer communication by leaps and bounds.