Ah, summertime. Hopefully for most of us, the office starts to relax a little bit, and we can take some time off and enjoy the weather. Unfortunately for this summer, the weather has been a little more intense than I remember. Here in Washington DC, this summer has been H.O.T. HOT! And while I usually enjoy a good thunderstorm every once and a while (great for napping!), I can’t say I’ve cared for the crazy storms we’ve had.
That’s because a few weeks ago, we experienced some violent storms that left many thousands of houses in the Virginia/DC/Baltimore area without power.
What I found interesting was how my roommates and I reacted when lights went out. Instead of calling our local utility first, we all reached for our smart phones and we turned to twitter to see how far spread this problem was. Once we figured out how large the problem was, we periodically checked various sources for updates and looked up what we should do to deal with the situation.
Luckily, my roommates and I only had to play a few games of monopoly via candlelight because power came back on after two days. My mom and many other residents in the area weren’t so lucky. But whether we were stuck without power for a few hours or a few days, most of us had the same questions on our minds. Who else lost power? When will the power come back on? How am I going to survive without air conditioning? Should I eat all of the ice cream in my freezer before it melts????
If you boil down these questions, all I was searching for was a few basic information needs: the scope of the problem and how to cope.
For our members in the utilities space, blackouts and power outages pose a major communications challenge. Nobody said communicating to people who really dislike your company at the moment was easy. Here are a few tips that could help during the next power outage:
- Don’t leave your customers in the dark (pun very much intended)
This step is table stakes during any crisis. Stakeholders demand instant information from you so you need to make sure you communicate regularly and quickly. Often, this is simply letting your stakeholders know you are aware of the situation and you are doing everything you can to resolve it. Stay ahead of developments and provide timelines whenever possible. If the problem will take longer to fix than expected, let your customers know why.
- Understand how your customers find information
The biggest takeaway here from my experience is that a major chunk of your customer base won’t turn immediately to your company for information. Furthermore, they may look to non-obvious sources of information to find answers.
CEC members: see how Southwest found those non-obvious places their stakeholders were active.
- Help customers deal with the situation
After we knew our power wasn’t coming back any time soon, we found ourselves asking, “Well …what should we do now to make sure we’ll be OK without power?” Provide customers practical information on riding out a power outage. Should we keep our refrigerator closed so the food doesn’t spoil? Should we unplug electronics so they don’t fry when the power comes back on? Include the basics, but also teach customers something they didn’t know was important to do.
For our utility members out there, what works for you when there are power outages for your customers? Has anyone done anything creative?
CEC Related Resources: