Enhancing outage communications — hot utility trends

by Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities

The 2013 CS Week Executive Summit in Tampa, Fla., as usual delivered on outstanding content and thought-provoking ideas, services and technologies to enhance utility customer service. Executive attendance this year set a record, and I am confident that all left with many new ideas to implement in their own utilities. There seemed to be a realization among executives at the summit that utility customer service is transforming rapidly because of the development of digital computing solutions and the advancement of customer expectations on service delivery. “Utilities must evolve or be roadkill,” was repeated often during the two-day session. Fellow executives shared many ideas other utilities can adopt to help their companies evolve in delivering customer service. One area of significant discussion was outage communications. The general sentiment of executives at the summit is that utilities will encounter more extreme weather events and customers will need and demand more outage information. The following are some of the outage communications trends we discussed at the summit.

Videos

As our YouTube generation customer base grows, they increasingly look for “sight bites” in addition to sound bites. During Superstorm Sandy, Consolidated Edison Inc. (Con Edison) and Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G) posted YouTube videos. In the case of Con Edison, these videos were viewed more than 115,000 times. New Jersey Natural Gas provided customers with tutorial videos to help customers understand the gas meter reactivation process.

Muni Portals or Dashboards

Providing towns and municipalities with their own pin-based portal is a top trend. These portals enhance the communication between the utility and local towns on restoration efforts and ensure a common understanding of toptown priorities and restoration status.

Evergreen Emergency Materials

Utilities are investing time up front to develop materials that are ready to launch for a large storm event. For example, templates for press releases are being developed and included in storm response plans. Messaging that can be provided proactively to customers before, during and after an event is being created and readied for use in the next storm event. In addition, utilities are investing in power restoration videos that can be popped to their websites to familiarize customers with the process.

Social Media

Our customer base increasingly is turning to social media to discuss storm restoration. Executives said that the conversation is happening on social media; as utilities, we can choose to ignore it or participate in the conversation. It is critical to participate in the conversation. We must recognize not all of the posted comments will be positive, but those offer utilities an opportunity to share important information and other considerations readers can use to base their judgment.

Mobile Applications

Increasingly customers are connecting to utility websites via mobile devices. At a minimum, having a website that supports mobile access is required. But utility executives said that downloadable apps are increasingly popular because of their user efficiency. Another development in the space of mobile applications is building onto the base of outage reporting to include weather feeds and links to Twitter.

Mobile Customer Centers

ready-to-eat meals and charging stations. This turned out to work for PSE&G public relations because the local TV stations often used these mobile customer centers as the backdrop for outage restoration coverage.

Escalated Customer Process

Utility executives agreed it is important to have an escalated customer process that is staffed by a team trained in helping the most irate customers. Listening to the more than 100 attendees at this year’s CSWeek Executive Summit, I know that none of the attendees want to be roadkill. The quality of content shared by speakers and the engaged dialogue that accompanied every presentation shows utility executives are vested in evolving outage restoration processes for customers. These ideas represent some of the trends in the outage space, but there were many more takeaways for utility executives that will mean good news for customers.

Author

Penni McLean-Conner is the chief customer officer 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 Efficient Economy. Her latest book,””Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices,” is available at http:// pennwellbooks.com. Reach her at penelope. conner@nu.com.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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