Powering a Positive Outage Experience with PowerAssist

John McCleanJohn McClean

Director, Business Development and Sales

May 25, 2021

Can a Utility Use an Outage to Improve Customer Experience?

With the broad implementation of digital technologies throughout the electricity sector, utilities have the capability to pinpoint when and where an outage has occurred. In fact, thanks to last gasp messaging in smart meters, the utility may respond before any customers reach out to report the outage or seek further information. Most utilities are very well structured to respond to failures in their network . . . they have the resources, the equipment, and the processes to respond at all hours.

Often the utility’s outage response efforts are invisible to its customers – and therein lies the problem. What is visible to the customer is the, often lacking, customer support infrastructure. If that customer needs outage information to make personal or business decisions, the utility may have the field service repair capabilities . . . but an inadequate solution to communicate that information to the customer. During the outage or soon after, those customers may be on social media tweeting about “lousy customer service” at the electric utility.

Sitting around a campfire, not many folks tell stories about great customer service, but everyone can recall a bad experience. It’s all about feelings and it becomes anecdotal. Yep. Although utilities are a highly regulated industry and subject to all kinds of key performance indicators and metrics, those customer feelings still carry weight.

Reliability is usually the first thing folks think about when assessing their utility customer service experience. When the power goes out, every aspect of the utility is questioned and unlikely to elicit a warm and fuzzy feeling from a customer. During an outage, there can be backlash, from customers and shareholders alike, and the social media channels can “light up” well before the “lights come back on,” — a situation that can potentially do considerable harm to your brand.

However, although reliability is independent of customer service, they both contribute to the overall Customer Experience (CX). Utilities are learning that the CX at all times is the key to improving customer satisfaction scores and attracting loyal, satisfied customers for life. With multiple communication channels (omni-channels) in place for two-way messaging, even an outage experience can be a positive one. Leveraging technology to digitalize those channels brings even more flexibility and painless interactions.

Customers can only imagine what you are or are not doing behind the scenes. Their imaginations are often incorrect, leading to further misleading innuendo on the social media channels. So . . . what can electricity utilities do to avoid negative social media transmissions and improve customer satisfaction?

Give them the truth!

Timely, Pertinent Information

These days, with the internet being the cornerstone of information and social media being the virtual water cooler for gossip – valid or not – customers are accustomed to receiving information about virtually everything the instant they want it. Our parents and grandparents may have waited out the outage in the dark, but expectations have changed for modern-day utility customers.

The utility should consider its outage practices . . .  they need to ask themselves, “Do our customers feel we care about them?” If you can communicate with them before they reach out to you, you are one step closer toward turning that answer into a “yes.” Ask your staff, front-line and support, to put themselves in the customer’s shoes during an outage.

A good analogy is the delivery notifications we all receive when we’ve ordered anything from a pizza to an item from Amazon. Confidence is established with the customer by providing notification at each step in the journey. The same is true for utility outages. A continuous stream of proactive messaging keeps customers informed from the start of the outage and makes them feel like they’re involved in the solution.

Step one is that customers want to know that the utility knows they’re out!

    • Immediately notify affected customers that the utility knows about the outage and that help is on the way!

Subsequent messages bring additional clarity to your utility’s response during the outage restoration life cycle:

    • “We are investigating the cause of the outage and crews are being assembled for response. Thanks for being patient and watch for future updates.”
    • “Crews are on route to the scene. We are currently formulating an Estimated Time of Restoration (ETR)”
    • “Crews are on-scene and the ETR is expected to be 4 p.m.”

All Channels, All the Time

Now just imagine that this messaging is going across all omni-channels. It’s landing on your IVR, social media, OMS website, chatbots, texts, and e-mails. The messaging is uniform, progressive, and clear across all channels. Using this approach creates a personalized experience and makes your utility look organized, shows that you are on top of things, and demonstrates care for the affected customers.

These days, customers want that personalized experience. Just like tracking the pizza delivery person coming to their home, they want regular updates on outage restoration. It’s important! Your customers need timely information to make decisions and plan their personal lives or businesses. Send those updates—in the channel they want.

Some customers may feel more comfortable getting information over the phone. That’s okay too. Ideally, you’ll have billboards to present the same information to customers who call on the telephone.

If an outage continues for one or two days, your customers will become more anxious to talk to a live agent. You’ll want to ensure your contact centre has the scalability to meet these demands as significant outages endure

Don’t forget though, many customers will still want to use their channel of choice, so continue to update across all omni-channels.

Specific, Timely, and Frequent Updates

It used to be that customers had only one expectation: “When will the power be restored?” Today, with folks having information at their fingertips, they want more. Especially during “blue sky” events they want to understand the cause of the outage and what you’re doing about it. By answering both questions, you’re keeping customers in the loop and explaining how you’re working to fix their problem – it’s like they’re also part of the solution.

To deliver pertinent updates, start with your field response crews. The crews form the cornerstone to providing the information that will flow to all your channels. Ideally, crews need to look at outages from the customer’s perspective and report timely information, especially when something changes. If you’re approaching your latest ETR and don’t think you’ll restore in time, provide another message across all channels. Consider using an ETR window, typically from two to four hours: “Your power is expected to be restored between 3 and 5 p.m.” This approach humanizes the estimate, and the customer recognizes unforeseen challenges may be encountered in the restoration process. This strategy works especially well during severe weather, grey-sky outages.

A continued proactive response across all channels keeps customers informed and reduces the need for them to call in. It’s difficult to create a “positive” outage experience, but by keeping customers informed of your progress, you are building a positive CX.

Your Customers are Not Machines

Finally, even though technology can do much of the heavy lifting to achieve that positive CX, let’s communicate in terms people can understand. Use plain language and be empathetic in understanding their problem and keep them posted on your progress.

Your Customers are Expecting this

“Back in the day . . .” and the “rotary dial telephones . . .” are memes that make us reflect on simpler times. People have changed and technology has been the enabler. They expect more. More timely information, on the channel they want it on. Has your utility changed with the times? Is this achievable? Unrealistic?

It’s all doable and it’s here now. There is nothing stopping your utility from creating positive CX during the most challenging of times.

Customer expectations have changed with the advancements in technology and the access and expectation to “instant” information. They are holding utilities to a much higher standard than years gone by and are comparing your utility CX to their other service providers. They will want that warm and fuzzy feeling of being connected and getting the right information, when they want it – good times and bad.

Over time customers will forgive an outage. In fact, when they’re part of a large weather-related event, especially one that makes the media, they leverage the experience as a tale they will tell friends and relatives over the years. What they will not forgive and forget, is a poor CX experience they had during the last outage they experienced. If you use the tools and strategies outlined in this article, there is a good chance that you’ve been able to turn that negative experience into a positive CX experience.

Powering a Positive Outage Experience: PowerAssist

Does your utility have the right tools and processes in place? Have you ever thought about what’s required to turn an unplanned outage into a positive CX experience? PowerAssist can help your utility start the metamorphosis. It’s cost-efficient, scalable, and offers omni-channel communications to provide the best representation of your utility. PowerAssist agents are utility trained, can ping meters, interrogate the utility CIS, and start an outage ticket in your outage management system. They handle social media posts and queries with poise and professionalism and offer preferred service to your key accounts. PowerAssist understands the CX strategy your customers will appreciate to make them feel like they’re part of the solution.

With the right CX strategy and tactics in place, the right processes – proactive and empathetic, and the right omni-channels, even when things seem to be at their worst on the reliability front, there’s a good chance that your customers can still find satisfaction in every outage experience.