By Janet Mushrush, Director of Sales, Utilities
The power goes out, and a local utility company immediately springs into action to find a solution. But when the outage experience ends four hours later, a woman boots up her computer, opens Facebook and broadcasts to all her friends, “My electric company has lousy customer service.”
Most customers can’t describe good customer service, but they can tell when they’ve had a bad experience. It’s all about feelings. That’s right. Even in the highly regulated utility industry, good ol’ non-technical feelings still carry weight.
When surveyed, many customers’ assessment of a utility’s customer service is directly tied to reliability. If the power goes out, every aspect of the business seems less favorable.
But reliability is not the same as customer service. Consumers may confuse the terms, but both are independent pieces of the customer experience (CX). And exceptional CX is the key to improving customer satisfaction scores and attracting loyal, satisfied customers for life.
With the right messaging, even an outage experience can be a positive one.
When reliability fails, utilities may face penalties and bad press, but with the right messaging, even an outage experience can be a positive one. Customers don’t know what you’re doing behind the scenes, so it’s your job to tell them. Here’s how utilities can communicate during an outage experience to avoid those poor social media reviews and improve customer satisfaction:
The right info at the right time…NOW.
With the advent of the internet and social media, consumers are accustomed to receiving information about virtually everything the instant they want it. While past customers may have waited out the outage in the dark, expectations have changed for modern-day utility providers.
Consider your outage practices. Ask yourself, “Do my customers feel we care about them?” One step toward turning that answer into a “yes” is to communicate with them before they call you.
This requires a solid program of proactive messaging that keeps customers informed from the outage onset. This could be a single text message, stating: “Falling branches have caused outages in your area. Field crews are working to resolve the issue, and we expect your power to be restored at approximately 6:45 p.m. Thank you for your patience, and please watch for future updates.”
A simple message like this tells a customer what’s being done to get the lights back on and speaks to his or her specific outage. That creates a personalized experience and decreases inbound calls to your call center, which saves money and lets your agents focus on more urgent matters.
Be ready to answer every call.
Make good on your promise to send updates. Your customers want personalized, up-to-the-minute information so they can plan their lives. And while we’re at it, they want it in the channel they want, which may not always be your channel of choice.
As extensive as your proactive notifications campaign is, the fact is some people won’t receive a text or may feel more comfortable getting information over the phone. For those customers, consider sending a proactive voice message, and a solution like West’s High-Volume Call Answering (HVCA) is designed to field incoming call traffic with a massive IVR platform. That provides important information and keeps local lines open.
But if the outage continues one or two days later, your customers want to talk to a person, and you may not have enough agents to answer the calls. That’s where other utilities can help. In a major outage that affects hundreds or thousands of homes, our Mutual Assistance Routing System (MARS) enables utility companies to respond to each other’s outages through a web-based interface. Because these are utility employees, who better to answer your customers’ questions?
Collectively, those two tools cover 70 percent of U.S. households, so utilities across the nation have seen the importance of high-volume answering and routing. But again, customers want to use their channel of choice, so don’t end your response with texting and phone calls. Make sure you have options to connect via text, call, webchat and app, if possible.
Give specific and frequent updates.
In the past, customers wanted one question answered: “When will my power be restored?” Today, people want more information, so they’re starting to ask, “What caused the outage?” Always answer both questions to keep customers in the loop and explain how you’re working to fix their problem.
There’s no standard for notification frequency, but make sure you’re sending updates when new information develops. If you’re approaching the estimated restoration time, send another text with a new estimate.
This continued proactive response keeps your customers informed and reduces the need to call in. Making customers feel relaxed and comfortable is the most important factor in improving customer satisfaction and creating a positive outage experience. And the best way to do that is keeping them informed.
Your customers are people.
Not pieces of the power grid.
Tall orders? You bet. Difficult to deliver? Sometimes. Unrealistic? Not with a few big steps that help you respond to customers’ immediate needs, begin to educate them on what is realistic and improving overall customer satisfaction and the outage experience.
As a final note, remember to acknowledge the outage in human terms. Your customers are people. Not pieces of the power grid. In the feelings-driven outage experience, empathy is your strongest asset. Show that you understand how they feel and how their situation is changing.
We’ve learned over the years that customers will forgive an outage. What they won’t forgive, and what gives utilities low customer satisfaction ratings, is keeping them in the dark when it comes to what’s happening and what’s being done to get it fixed.
Consumer opinions in the utility industry are slow to change, but by following these strategies, your customers will learn over time that it’s not the reliability of the system that defines good customer service. Instead, they’ll judge your service on the way you respond to their feelings, so the next Facebook post can look more like this:
“So my power will be back on in two hours, but the electric company said it’s already fixed downtown. Heading there now to catch the big game. Thanks for the great customer service!”
And for when the outage ends, check out the top ways utilities use customer data to improve CX to send relevant, helpful messaging year round.
With the right communication, everything can go right even when things go wrong. Be proactive, helpful and caring, and your customers can find satisfaction in every outage experience.
Janet serves as director of utility sales at West and has been with the company for over 20 years. She is responsible for generating new business as well as working with more than 80 utility clients on various initiatives related to integration of new and existing technology to create connected customer experiences. Janet attended Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and began her career as a client relationship manager, in which she designed call-handling programs. She was on the original design team for Twenty First Century Communication’s Universal Communications System, now known as Alert, and was a designer of West’s Unified Communications Strategy, now incorporated into CX.