Measuring the customer outage experience

Part 4 in a Series on Outage Communications

by Penni McLean-Connor, NSTAR

For 2013, this column has been dedicated to the discussion on how utilities can enhance outage communications. Utilities are bullish about enhancing the customer outage experience by operationally improving performance and communicating more frequently and accurately with customers on outage restoration status.

Utilities will know they have succeeded in improving their customers’ experience when customers tell them, as part of customer satisfactions surveys. The downside to customer satisfaction survey measurement is that it is a lagging measure. Metrics that a utility monitors regularly and in real-time indicate what is most valuable to customer satisfaction. It is important for utilities to have these leading indicators in place to monitor and manage customer outage communications.

Some of the most valued outage communications metrics are: estimated time of restoration (ETR), which is the communications attribute most valued by customers; system reliability; how utilities communicate; and, social media.

ETR Metrics

ETR is the most important piece of information a utility can provide a customer. Leading utilities regularly monitor metrics associated with ETR, including:

  • Percent of customers’ receiving an ETR.
  • Percent of customers receiving an accurate ETR. A utility might call an ETR accurate if the ETR is not missed and is accurate within 90 minutes of the actual event.
  • Percent of missed ETRs. This is a quality measure identifying those ETRs that were missed.

System Reliability

System reliability metrics are some of the most mature and standardized metrics in the utility industry. Because the definition and measurement is standardized, these metrics can be easily benchmarked with other utilities. While there are many reliability metrics that utilities will monitor and measure, from a customer’s lens, the most informative are:

  • Customer Average Interruption Duration Index (CAIDI). This provides the average outage duration that any given customer would experience.
  • System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI). This is the average number of minutes a customer is interrupted in a year.
  • System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI). This is the average number of interruptions that a customer would experience. It is sometimes reported as months between interruptions (MBI), giving insight into how often the average customer is experiencing an outage.
  • Total customers impacted by outages. This metric reminds utility leaders of the number of customers inconvenienced by outages.
  • Customers experiencing long interruption duration (CELID). This metric provides insights into the number of customers who experience an outage greater than X hours, with X being set by the utility.

Communication Metrics

Utilities should maintain and monitor metrics around outage communication channels offered to customers to ensure that each channel supports customers appropriately and measures performance. Outage communication metrics can be benchmarked. The DataSource, administered by the customer service committees of the American Gas Association and the Edison Electric Institute, is a utility customer service benchmarking tool that supports analysis of inbound outage reports handled by customer service representatives (CSR), interactive voice response (IVR) and websites. Recent DataSource results shows that more than 65 percent of customers prefer self-service options. Other quality metrics reviewed include percent of calls abandoned and percent of outbound calls completed.

Social Media Metrics

Social media is the new utility metrics area. Customers are increasingly using social media to gain information on a variety of subjects, including outage information. Twitter is an excellent communication tool for utilities to leverage during outage events. Some metrics utilities maintain with social media include, number of downloads of mobile outage applications, Facebook hits, Twitter followers, retweets, Web visits and You-Tube video views.

What gets measured, gets managed. This is true with the customer outage experience. Leading utility executives are working hard to identify and monitor metrics that give insight into customers’ outage experiences. With this information, they can inform strategies and initiatives that will enhance the overall experience.

Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investorowned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, “Energy Effciency: Principles and Practices” is available at http://pennwellbooks. com.

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