communication is key for preventing blackouts

For some, the first days of spring bring thoughts of summer warmth and relaxation. But, for those in the energy industry, the onset of warm weather means it’s time to plan for spikes in usage and other energy management challenges. Combining these trials with deregulation and increased competition and costs, it’s easy to see that utility companies are facing the most complex energy landscape ever. Further compounding these challenges is the need to communicate rapidly changing scenarios, planned and unplanned, to partners and customers quickly and efficiently.

getting proactive

Utilities are saddled with handling increasing inbound call volume. With millions of customers, utilities can receive thousands of inbound calls daily from customers. To deliver quality customer care at a lower cost, utilities need to engage in proactive customer care-an approach to customer service that is designed to pre-empt calls and lessen inbound call volume. The ultimate goal is to deliver valuable information to customers before they call the contact center.

Enter enterprise notification services that allow utilities to automatically deliver thousands of customized messages to customers via the device each customer prefers: phone, fax, email, pager, SMS, etc. By using an enterprise messaging service to deliver proactive customer touches, utilities can automate the timely delivery of relevant and meaningful information to customers and enable them to provide feedback instantly while reducing the volume of calls into the contact center.

notification in action

Alliant Energy Corporation provides more than a million Midwestern customers with electricity, steam and natural gas. Its service territory covers 54,000 square miles in America’s heartland and includes 9,700 miles of electric transmission lines and 8,000 miles of natural gas mains.

Alliant has to serve a diverse audience of customers, dispersed geographically and consuming a broad variety of energy offerings. The company turned to an enterprise notification system, when it came time to communicate proactively with its customers.

Alliant Energy offers an optional electric interruptible tariff for its large commercial and industrial customers. Customers on this special tariff receive reduced rates throughout the year in exchange for agreeing to curtail energy use in periods of high electricity demand. However, these peak periods come at different times each months.

Alliant installed an enterprise notification system to communicate impending peak usage periods to their customers. Such a system provides Alliant with the infrastructure and tools to establish automated, fully interactive voice and text communications to its customers. Using the system, Alliant can create time-sensitive notifications to be delivered to landline and mobile phones, faxes, email, pagers, SMS and WAP phones, PDAs, and BlackBerrys in real-time, in accordance with the specific requirements of each customer.

Enterprise notification systems are providing a beneficial solution to meet the full range of communications needs of public and private utilities. Sample applications include:

“- power outages/service disruptions. Preemptively notify customers when business or residential power may be affected by service upgrades, routine maintenance or weather-related disruptions. Advanced warnings mitigate incoming call center traffic, while enhancing customer service.

“- curtailment notification/demand response. Like the Alliant Energy example, notify, monitor, manage and document curtailment events for commercial and industrial customers on interruptible contracts. Automated communications reduce notification times and provide a full audit trail for government regulation compliance.

“- schedule maintenance/repair appointments. Provide advanced warning regarding service appointments and meter readings to service crews in the area while also confirming appointments with customers.

“- crisis management. Immediately disseminate news of emergency situations to field personnel. Utilize escalation capabilities to ensure receipt by relevant personnel or colleagues to guarantee safety.

“- fleet mobilization. Reach utility service vehicles in areas requiring emergency service in the cases of a gas line leak, water main break, or down live electrical wire. Interactive response mechanism allows recipients to respond with availability and time frame for arrival.

“- collections. Automate courtesy non-payment calls to customers with outstanding balances. Provide preemptive notice of pending cancellation or penalties by delivering detailed messages including account numbers, amount overdue and payment options secured until the customer authenticates with a PIN number.

Utilities can successfully address technology challenges to deliver high-quality proactive care with enterprise notification services.

Levitan is CEO of EnvoyWorldWide.

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