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Successful Outage Communications: The Channels

Introduction

When there is an unexpected power outage, customers have questions. They want to know why the power is out. They want to know when the power will be restored. And they want the answers now. It’s the responsibility of the utility to answer these questions quickly, accurately, and efficiently.


Utilities should provide accessible, accurate, and timely information. The Outage Communications Triangle shows the three key components for communications with customers. Managing those components successfully is key.

Outage Channel Triangle
  • HOW: How will you communicate with your audience?

    • Choosing the right channels

    • Ensuring channels are available

    • Encouraging adoption of self-service channels

  • WHAT: What will you communicate to your audience?

    • Choosing the right message

    • Standardizing communications across all platforms

    • Providing accurate information

  • WHEN: When will you communicate with your audience?

    • Choosing the right timing

    • Speed of communications vs accuracy of information

In this post, we examine the first of the three, the HOW component of the Outage Communications Triangle.

Choosing the Correct Channels of Communication

Utilities need effective channels of communication that are supported with proven processes and technology. Results of First Quartile’s 2022 Benchmarking Study revealed that inbound live calls represent 15% of all incoming communications from customers, with approximately 10% of live calls related to outage reporting. Most companies from our community use a High Volume Call Answering system to address incoming live calls. The second most common way to handle call volumes during outages is to bring in auxiliary call takers from other departments.


Self-service channels are becoming increasingly popular as electronic communications become more effective and reliable. Other popular outage communications channels include website usage, mobile app, social media, and texting.100% of companies from our community are utilizing their utility website for inbound outage reports and 95% are utilizing the mobile app to capture incoming outage reports from customers.At this time, only one utility in our community reports using smart home devices for outage reporting.


Ensuring communication channels are available

For a communication channel to be effective, it must be able to handle the volume of incoming traffic. Developing expectations for delivery and performance for each channel will be key to understanding if the channel is able to meet the needs. Historical data about the volume of incoming calls and current data about the number of app installations and website hits will be needed to understand the extent of the load that each channel will experience during an outage event.


Encouraging Adoption of Self-Service Channels

Utilities should create outreach communications that explain where people should go to get info such as the utility website or mobile apps, social media and news or local presence locations. Regular promotions that encourage customers to designate preferred communications channels and update contact information will be useful for keeping customers informed. Utilities will need a method for tracking and using customer preferences so that customers receive the information they need through the channel of their choice.


In particular, utilities need to promote adoption of the various self-service channels. Adoption of self-service channels will help decrease live calls, reducing strain on call centers and leaving more employee bandwidth to address customer-specific communications. To encourage self-service communications, utilities will need to ensure that all customer segments understand what channels and information are available to them.


Utility promotion efforts, as well as the quality of the communication and channel, have an impact upon adoption. Customer adoption of automatic outage notifications for our community ranges from less than 10% to over 90%.



Word of mouth is key. If one customer tries a self-service channel and is impressed, they may share the information with friends and neighbors. Likewise, a bad experience will cause them to share their frustrations with the same friends and neighbors, driving people away from self-service interactions and increasing live calls.


Over 75% of utilities participating in our Benchmarking Study give customers the ability to interact with communications they receive from the utility such as requesting a call-back or regular updates. This gives customers more control and confidence in the communication.


Successful Channel Management

One goal should be ensuring that customers receive all the information they need without having to contact the utility. In some cases, customers will be required to sign-up or opt-in to receive information through that channel and processes will need to be put in place to communicate the availability of that channel and the customer’s need to actively request access to information through that channel. Once customers have selected their prefences and adopted self-service, utilities need to manage what’s communicated and when – the topics of the next two posts.

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