COLUMBUS, Ohio—Through a unique partnership, industry communications provider Twenty First Century Communications (TFCC) and a consortium of utility companies have developed a new system to help utilities respond more quickly to customers who lose power.
The collaboration addresses one of the biggest problems facing utilities after a disaster—responding to the influx of customer calls to report outages and get information. TFCC already provides to U.S. utilities high-volume call answering, a system that takes outage calls and returns restoration information using automation.
But as outages extend into hours and days, customers want to talk to a person.
“Our customers’ willingness to talk to a machine dwindles after about the first day,” said Rob Cheripko, managing director of customer service for American Electric Power Co. of Columbus.
With the Mutual Assistance Routing System, or MARS, utilities can reroute calls from people in storm-stricken areas to customer service representatives at other utilities.
Several utilities have already implemented MARS, and the program is receiving national attention. MARS was featured in a May 11 story in The Wall Street Journal, “Utilities Unite to Upgrade Response During Storms.”
Utilities started talking about loaning one other customer service teams in 2007, by actually flying them to the locations of utilities in need. As Hurricanes Katrina and Rita illustrated, there were many logistical problems such as damaged infrastructure, impassable roads and lack of housing. The utilities in need of help would have to pick up, feed, house and train responding customer service reps on their systems. It wasn’t cost-effective.
With MARS, none of that is a concern. TFCC has the ability to route calls across all U.S. telecom carriers, so location doesn’t matter. The system comes with a simple data screen and a common communications platform for all participating utilities. Minimal training is needed and representatives work from their usual stations.
“The more utilities across the U.S. that join MARS, the more powerful it becomes,” said Jim Kennedy, founder and CEO of TFCC. “During hurricane season in the south or an ice storm in New England, utilities from unaffected parts of the country can step up to support those in crisis.”
MARS is the latest innovation from TFCC, a company with 20 years experience providing customized utility solutions, with a unique client care commitment and a promise of relentless reliability.
“We have daily communications with the majority of our utility clients, anticipating their needs and making ourselves available 24/7 in the event of a crisis,” said Julia McDevitt, TFCC client services director.
MARS is an example of how partnership and communication between providers and clients can pay off for both, Kennedy said.
“MARS represents a growth opportunity for TFCC certainly,” he said, “but more importantly, it provides a very cost-effective solution to a key problem for utilities.”