Jump on the Communications Bandwagon or Kiss Your Customers Goodbye

Jump on the Communications Bandwagon or Kiss Your Customers Goodbye

Steven Wood

Associate Editor

Utilities are learning something new. For years there was very little concern shown from the utilities about communicating efficiently within their own organizations, much less with their own customers. Being in a regulated industry, utilities were more concerned with satisfying governmental regulations than responding to customers` or employees` needs.

With deregulation on the horizon for most, and having come to pass for some, the need for effective communication has been driven to the forefront. Many utilities are struggling to determine the most effective means to communicate within their organizations and with their customers. One thing is for certain, successful utilities of the future will have efficient, cost effective ways to communicate with their employees and customers.

In this issue of Utility Automation, we take a look at communications technology. Not necessarily how utilities are using the technology, but actually the technology itself. The possibilities are endless, whether it is cellular, satellite, microwave or some other technologically advanced system. All the various options have their pros and cons, but the systems that best fit the utilities` needs will be the winners in this competitive environment.

Efficient communications technology and the tools used will satisfy the needs of a successful utility. Recently I attended the GITA conference in Charlotte, NC. The traditional AM/FM/GIS is quickly changing. There seems to be more focus on an integrated GIS-based system that is used by not only the engineers, but also the field workers, customer service representatives, sales departments and executive level management. This vast use of the same information improves the quality of communication and service. Imagine a customer reporting an outage to a customer service representative, who can instantaneously tell the customer that a crew is two blocks from the customer`s house fixing the problem. At the same time the field crew is notified that there is another reported outage and that their current work assignment should fix this new outage report. This is all done with an integrated system that includes GIS and GPS systems, a customer information system, and is linked through a communications system where any authorized utility employee can see the status at any time through an intranet or Internet connection.

The potential financial savings is phenomenal, but the true benefit is customer retention. By utilities satisfying their customers, there is a better chance that when customers receive solicitations from energy service providers, they will stay with their current utilities.

It all boils down to one element that every business, whether a utility or other service oriented establishment, has to focus on to be successful. That element is communications. The better utilities are at communications, and the better the technology implemented, the more customers incumbent utilities will keep in the deregulated environment.

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