by Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities
As I meet with utility leaders across the country, I find many are focused on advancing outage communications by meeting their audiences in preferred channels with valued information.
As such, for 2013, I dedicated this column to how utilities can enhance outage communications. This series of columns has explored tools for outage reporting, customer-valued outage information, measurements to monitor progress and current trends. This final column in this series explores channel management strategy.
Channel management is a deliberate strategy with respect to the various customer or audience communications that range from highly personalized face-toface interaction to complete automated service. Success for utilities in channel management is the ability to offer audiences outage information in the way they want it, when they want it, at the lowest available cost. Utilities must communicate to various audiences using multiple channels. The audience for outage information has expanded beyond affected customers to community leaders, interested neighbors and media, among others. To meet these audiences where they live, savvy utilities have a defined channel management strategy.
A technology enabler to a successful channel management strategy is channel preference management. These technology tools allow you to capture and retain customer channel preferences by transaction type. For example, a customer might prefer his or her utility bill via email and prefer outage updates via text.
A successful channel management strategy combines a preference management tool with a defined approach by transaction to reach targeted audiences. Let’s explore the channels and the audiences that utilities are building into their channel management strategies for outage communications.
The traditional channels of inbound calls, outbound phone campaigns, interactive voice response and face-to-face interaction continue to play a role in outage communication. These channels typically target customers who are affected by an event. Staffing for inbound outage calls remains a top priority, but the trend here is for utilities to push more messaging proactively to customers via outbound call campaigns.
Utilities also use face-to-face interactions. This can be targeted to hard-hit communities using a mobile customer center. This enables a utility to provide a more personalized presence and create a positive public relations impact.
During a large outage, the utility is in the media spotlight. It is important to tell the story of the restoration process. The audience here is well beyond customers who are experiencing an outage, but rather is inclusive of all folks affected by the event. The challenge with this type of communication is that the media message can not be fully controlled. Utilities work hard to push out the storm story message. And increasingly, utilities are turning to social media to do this more effectively.
Some utilities in their channel management strategies also build in paid media during events to augment the push of information via the news media. The paid media might look similar to ads that run before and after large events, sharing the outage restoration story and the values of the utility.
All of our audiences want mobile solutions. A ticket into the game is the mobile-enabled Web. But the utility leaders also offer downloadable apps which, for the digital super user, provide an easier interface by which to keep updated in an event.
Utilities also use mobile technology to tell their stories to customers who are affected by events but not necessarily out of power. Some allow customers to register for text updates during large events
for their areas or towns. These mobile updates to customers provide a platform for utilities to push key messages about storms and the stories of restorations.
A pin-based portal is an excellent tool to offer to a community or town. Towns with this type of access can provide and receive information about restoration progress that is germane to their local areas. They can push information about downed wires, critical facilities that are without power or emergency situations. Utilities can push updates on these town priorities.
Pin-based portals are a great channel to target specific audiences that might require more customized information but also can leverage a self-service tool. In addition to portals for towns or communities,utilities also offer them for business customers and governmental groups, among others.
Utilities are investing wisely in channel management strategies and support tools such as preference management systems. This investment will enable utilities to provide customers and other interested audiences with timely, valued information on outages and restoration progress. Channel Management Strategy for Outage Communications by Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities © Can Stock Photo Inc.
Penni McLean-Conner is the chief customer offcer at Northeast Utilities, the largest energy delivery company in New England. A registered professional engineer, McLean-Conner is active in the utility industry serving on several boards of directors including CS Week and the American Council for an Energy Effcient Economy. Her latest book, “Energy Effciency: Principles and Practices,” is available at http:// pennwellbooks.com. Reach her at penelope. email@example.com.