Let's Get Social: Best Practices in Utility Outage Communications

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Let's Get Social: Best Practices in Utility Outage Communications

Utility outages are inevitable. They happen, and utility customers for the most part are understanding when an outage occurs. Yet it’s how a utility company communicates with impacted customers that can determine whether those customers perceive the experience as relatively positive — or negative.

In this age of social media in particular, the negative impact of an outage can spur an excess of bad press in no time. All it takes is a customer putting a comment out in the social universe. Add the need for media damage control during an outage, and the situation can become precarious rather quickly.

A strategic, proactive social media plan

Having a social media plan in place and being able to execute it proactively can help alleviate negative bad press. Utilities can also use such a plan to help facilitate outage restoration, and to improve the accuracy of the information they’re receiving and providing. A utility must therefore develop a plan that incorporates real-time, two-way communications into standard operating procedures, with a focus on what will be done during an outage.

What utility customers really expect

Smartphones, mobile devices and the ease of information sharing and availability have raised consumers’ expectations of customer service tremendously. The impact is evident with more companies now encouraging multichannel communications through email, chat, and SMS texting, and with the increased use of mobile apps to access info at any time. This all contributes to utility customers wanting more control during an outage:

• Two-way communications about when they can expect their power to be restored

• Detailed information about their community and their neighborhood

• Easy access to the information, ideally from a familiar source

 The deeper impact of social media on utilities

According to a report from market intelligence firm IDC (News - Alert), utility executives agree on four key points about customers, outage information, and how and why social media makes a noticeable impact:

• Customers want accurate outage information that’s consistent across all communications channels.

• If customers can’t get this information from their utility, they will use social media to generate and share this information among themselves.

• Customers can and will provide accurate, useful outage information back to their utility, if the utility is “plugged in” sufficiently to receive and make use of that information.

• Utilities cannot “control” social media outage reporting, but they can and should participate in the discussions, providing accurate information.

Plan accordingly

Understanding the changes in technology and mobility, coupled with an ever increasing need for relevant, timely communications, utilities must plan accordingly.

• Map out a social media strategy as it relates to customer service, outages, and stakeholder communications.

• Brainstorm all potential means of communicating with constituents and conduct a cost/benefit analysis on each, including softer benefits such as “good will” and reduced churn.

• Implement industry best practices such as posting outage maps and service restoration updates on a company website.

• Determine a contingency plan for call overflow into the contact center in the event of an outage.

• Decide on implementing communications channels such as SMS, chat, an interactive map, call backs when power is restored, self-service IVR options for reporting, or other means.

For a utility company and the customer experience, improving communication with customers, communities, local media, and other stakeholders throughout an outage can be a decided competitive advantage.

Edited by Adam Brandt
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