Enhancing outage communications, Part 2

by Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities

For the next several issues, this column will focus on enhancing outage communications. This topic is top of mind for customers, utilities and regulators. The first column discussed best practices in outage reporting. Part 2 focuses on customer- valued outage communication.

J.D. Power and Associates has completed extensive customer satisfaction research on outage communications. A shout-out goes to Jeff Conklin, senior director of the energy practice, for his assistance in developing this segment by providing insights into the J.D. Power’s “Customer Impact Report: Utility Outage Communication Preferences” issued in July.

Outages are inconvenient for customers, and this shows up in their satisfaction. The good news is that utilities can make outage experiences better by providing customers with valued information.

So what do customers want to know about their outages? Knowing when an outage will be restored is the most desired information. Utilities refer to this information as the estimated time of restoration (ETR). The J.D. Power study, however, revealed customers value other information, as well.

Top Outage Information

ETR. ETR is the most important information to customers. Although utilities are careful to note “estimate,” customers desire a high degree of accuracy in estimates.

Outage cause. Customers are curious. To appeal to their customers’ curious nature, utilities can provide causes of outages. The J.D. Power research revealed that not all causes are equal. Satisfaction is higher when customers learn the cause of an outage is because of scheduled utility work or an auto accident. The least satisfying causes are utility equipment failure.

Crew status. Customers want reassurance that their outages are being addressed. Providing customers with information on crew status is a way to meet the need. Customers mostly want to know that work crews have been dispatched to their particular outages.

Other Outage Information

The J.D. Power research reveals customers are most satisfied when they are provided more information about outages. Besides providing an ETR, cause and crew status, utilities should explore other information that might be of value to customers.

Customer outage confirmation. The J.D. Power research suggests customers value confirmation that their utilities have recorded their outages. Utilities can meet this need by closing an outage call that acknowledges an outage has been recorded.

Outage updates. Providing customers with status on when information will be updated on outages is important. Utilities often provide customers with information on how to get updated information, including reminding customers of self-service options.

Other information ideas. Other types of information that can be provided include the number of customers affected by an outage and when an outage began.

Most utilities have most, if not all, of this information in their outage management systems. The challenge is communicating information to customers in the channels of their choice in a timely manner. One tip to consider is leveraging the restoration callback to provide customer-valued information. By the time a restoration callback is ready to be delivered, utilities have good information on the exact outage cause, number of customers affected and time the outage began and ended. Some utilities even provide customers with the current time so they can update their clocks.

Outage response and communication is a hot utility topic. As research and best practices are shared, customers will benefit.

To learn more about J.D. Power and Associates’ outage communication research and other valued utility research, visit www.jdpower.com and check out the energy industry page. J.D. Power also has an e-commerce site where utilities can browse reports and papers and purchase and download the research reports they need.

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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