Mar
5

Why Your Outage Story is Important

Back in 2012, J.D. Power reported a direct correlation between customer satisfaction and the amount of information customers received during outages. Since then, interactive outage maps, text alerts, and mobile-optimized websites have become common tools for providing customers with outage information. However, it’s still not common for utilities to provide information beyond the number of customers affected by an outage or an estimated restoration time, which means many utilities are missing out an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction and gain customer trust by being more transparent.

When customers are able to get more information about the reason for an outage and the status of the repair work, they are better able to feel in control of their situation and less likely to become frustrated with their utility. Providing additional information contributes to transparent communication, which builds customers’ trust and strengthens your relationship with them. Collecting and sharing additional information with your customers during outages also helps you focus on and improve your restoration plans as a whole.

Current State of Affairs

According to a 2014 Chartwell study of 52 of the largest utilities in North America, 84% of utilities offer an interactive outage map, but only 37% of utilities with an outage map include an outage cause, and only 36% include crew status. Even when utilities are capable of providing outage cause information, many causes don’t get entered until after restoration is complete, which means that they are never seen by customers.

Infographic - Outage Maps: One of the key elements of the outage portal is an interactive outage map. Maps are by far the most prevalent feature of an outage web portal. 84% of utilities offer an interactive outage map. Outage Map Functionality: 81% Customers affected by outage, 54% Estimated Restoration Time, 37% Outage Cause, 36% Crew Status, 29% Outage Start Time, 11% Percentage of Total Customers Affected

Infographic Credit: Chartwell, Inc., 2014

Telling Your Outage Story

To understand why providing information about outage cause and crew status is important, consider how you function as a consumer. You have expectations about service, how you are treated, and how much control you have over your relationship with companies you interact with. When those expectations aren’t met, who are you angry with? Usually, it’s the representative or the company – unless they have a good reason for the shortcoming or can offer a genuine apology with an effort to make things right.

Providing additional outage information to your customers is valuable because it lets you tell the rest of the story behind the outage. This is the utility version of an explanation for a drop in the quality of service. Utility industry regulators are also encouraging utilities to “tell their story,” and even fining utilities that don’t do so. For example, on the New York utility scorecard established after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Communication counts for 49% and ETR accuracy counts for an additional 12% of overall scoring.

Let’s take package deliveries as an example. When you order a package, you’re typically given a number to track the package’s delivery status. If your package doesn’t arrive when you expect it to, it’s easy to go online and find out why. Whether its a storm delay or an issue with your delivery address, knowing this information helps you see the big picture and improves your perception of the shipping company.

In addition to providing information about delays, many delivery companies also provide the location of each package at many points along its route and an estimated delivery date. This information is akin to a utility providing an outage notification that includes crew status and an estimated restoration time. To provide the same kind of information as other service providers, you need to tell your customers what happened to cause an outage, what you’re doing to fix the issue, and when they can expect the power to be up and running again.

Twitter Conversation between Customer (C) and Utility (U) - C: why does it trip with a light mist and no wind or lightning? U: moisture could have caused a fault current to occur. We found no problems on the system, so the service was interrupted due to rain. C: why is the power gone off three times this morning? That's 5 times in 24 hours. U: Feeder outage in Rockwall this morning....cause being investigated...75% customers back on, ~Debbie C: Debbie, what is being done to address this and fix it permanently? Repairs?

Customers especially wonder about outages when there isn’t an obvious cause in their area. Not getting an answer to questions about the reason for repeated outages is frustrating.

 

Twitter comment from utility customer: Thrilled the power came back on, but wondering why it went out

Even after power is restored, some customers still want to know the cause of the outage.

Examples of Improvement

Some utilities are working to provide more accurate and timely information about crew status and outage causes by using a combination of hardware like smartphones, tablets and GPS devices and software like outage management systems, mobile applications and automated text messaging systems.

For example, one large utility company in the Northeastern United States recently implemented a program to allow mutual assistance crews to submit work order status updates by text message. Using an automated message system, crew members can easily update the the status of a work order, something that was previously done by telephone. The text program improves outage communications by shortening the time between a change in status and communicating the change to the affected customers.

Similarly, another Northeastern utility provides an unprecedented amount of data on its outage map. Using the outage map, customers can view outage data at the premise level. When customers zoom in closer than the 250-foot level, they can view icons for each premise affected by an outage. For locations where multiple addresses are too close together for the map to display separate icons, customers have the option to open a pop-up window that displays additional details, including which addresses are affected and which have reported outages.

Improving Communication is a Process

Overall, the quality of your communication is key. Customers react most positively when they can get information specific to their situation. This information gives them back a measure of control over their lives at a time when it’s easy for them to feel powerless and disconnected (pun intended). However, even if you can’t provide specific updates for each customer, telling your outage story on a higher level is still an important part of the process of improving your communication.

 
How

Free On-Demand Webinar: How "Mobile" is Changing the Payment Landscape for Utilities

Improving the billing and payment process for customers has become a key initiative for utilities. Join iFactor and Western Union as we share how mobile technologies can help utilities increase customer satisfaction and improve collections while managing costs.

Click to watch >>

 
Feb
25

Infographic – Four Utility Customer Communication Trends of 2014

In a blog post published in January 2015, we identified four key trends that made 2014 the most active and exciting year in utility customer communications the industry has experienced. Our infographic below highlights the key details about these trends. You can also read more about these trends in our January blog post.

Four Utility Customer Communication Trends of 2014

 

To embed this infographic on your own blog or webpage, copy the code below:

 
How

Free On-Demand Webinar: How "Mobile" is Changing the Payment Landscape for Utilities

Improving the billing and payment process for customers has become a key initiative for utilities. Join iFactor and Western Union as we share how mobile technologies can help utilities increase customer satisfaction and improve collections while managing costs.

Click to watch >>

 
Feb
17

SMECO Adds Billing and Payment Messages to Text Message Offering for Customers

In December 2014, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) added billing and payment messages to its text messaging service for customers. The update adds text messaging keywords that allow customers to request account balance information and to pay bills using stored payment information. Customers can also use SMECO’s Online Bill Payment site to sign up to receive bills via text message. With this service, customers receive text message notifications with an embedded link to view their bill.

SMECO 24/7 webpage header - "Report your outage, view the up-to-date outage map, and pay your bill all with the touch of a finger. Download the free SMECO 24/7 app for your smart phone or mobile device."

To support the text messaging service, SMECO has an FAQ page on its website with descriptions of the text message keywords available, additional information about how to register, and what to expect from the service.

Interested in learning more about mobile billing and payments for utilities? Sign up for our free webinar How “Mobile” is Changing the Payment Landscape for Utilities” taking place on March 5 at 2:00 PM EST.

SMECO is a customer-owned electric cooperative providing electricity to more than 156,000 services in southern Prince George’s County, and in Charles County, St. Mary’s County, and all but the northeast portion of Calvert County. For more information on SMECO, visit www.smeco.coop.

 
How

Free On-Demand Webinar: How "Mobile" is Changing the Payment Landscape for Utilities

Improving the billing and payment process for customers has become a key initiative for utilities. Join iFactor and Western Union as we share how mobile technologies can help utilities increase customer satisfaction and improve collections while managing costs.

Click to watch >>

 
Feb
13

Free On-Demand Webinar: How “Mobile” is Changing the Payment Landscape for Utilities

Free Webinar: How

Improving the meter to cash process for customers has become a key initiative for utilities working to increase customer satisfaction and improve collections while managing costs. While mailed checks and in-person payments may never completely go away, the age of mobile technology is changing the way customers expect to view and pay their utility bills.

Join iFactor and Western Union as we share:

  • How smartphone adoption and advancements in mobile technology are changing the way consumers expect to interact with service providers.
  • What the next generation of billing and payments features holds for utility customers.
  • How mobile devices can support pre-pay, time-of-use, demand response and other meter-to-cash initiatives.
  • Best practices for implementing a mobile payment solution at your utility.

Watch the on-demand webinar

Speakers

  • Rob Gilpin, Sales Director, iFactor
  • Alexis Blackstead, VP Product, Western Union
 
How

Free On-Demand Webinar: How "Mobile" is Changing the Payment Landscape for Utilities

Improving the billing and payment process for customers has become a key initiative for utilities. Join iFactor and Western Union as we share how mobile technologies can help utilities increase customer satisfaction and improve collections while managing costs.

Click to watch >>

 
Feb
11

Hydro One Launches Pilot Program for Outage Notifications

On November 28, Hydro One announced the launch of its new Outage Notification program. The program is powered by iFactor’s Notifi® product, and gives Hydro One customers the option to sign up for proactive text message or email alerts about outages that may be affecting their properties.

“To better serve our customers, we are piloting our new proactive Outage Notification tool,” said Carm Marcello, President and CEO, Hydro One. “Based on customer feedback, we know our customers want up-to-date information that will allow them to make decisions if the lights go out. This tool will now make getting that information even easier.”

Hydro One Outage Notification program - homepage promo, "Never Be Left in the Dark"

Outage Notification program promotion from Hydro One’s homepage

The current version of the Outage Notification service is a pilot available to over 132,000 residential customers in the areas of Alliston, Dundas, Orangeville, Bolton, Guelph, Thorold, and Simcoe. Customers can register for alerts on Hydro One’s website using their My Account login information, and will receive alerts when an outage is initially reported, when an estimated time of restoration is set or updated, and when outage restoration is confirmed.

The Hydro One Outage Notification program also allows customers to use text message keywords to pause, resume, or cancel text messaging by replying to any text message sent by the program. Hydro One has promoted the Outage Notification program on its homepage and on Twitter, and has included a page on its website with detailed information about the program.

Hydro One Outage Notification program - Twitter promo, "Hydro One is piloting outage notification through text message or email to customers. Log on to My Account to sign up."

Twitter promotion for the outage notification pilot program

Hydro One delivers electricity safely, reliably, and responsibly to homes and businesses across the province of Ontario. It owns and operates Ontario’s 29,000 km high-voltage transmission network that delivers electricity to large industrial customers and municipal utilities, and a 122,000 km low-voltage distribution system that serves about 1.3 million end-use customers and smaller municipal utilities in the province. Hydro One is wholly owned by the Province of Ontario.

 
How

Free On-Demand Webinar: How "Mobile" is Changing the Payment Landscape for Utilities

Improving the billing and payment process for customers has become a key initiative for utilities. Join iFactor and Western Union as we share how mobile technologies can help utilities increase customer satisfaction and improve collections while managing costs.

Click to watch >>