Outage Information: What a Customer Expects

Warning: Some of the following text was copied directly from the lead paragraphs on actual electric utility “Outage Information” websites. Seek and find the real “information.”

CC Rep: “Hello, this is Scrodbasket Electric Customer Care representative Maggie Springfield. How may I help manage your expectations today?”

Customer: “Yea, this is Gomer Newberry at 666 Elm Street in Busted Bridge. I want to know why my power isn’t back on yet.”

CC Rep: “Well, thank you for calling Scrodbasket Electric Mr. Newberry. I do see that there is an outage in your area. As you know, our area has been impacted by an extremely strong wind storm, followed by devastating fires and dust storms. You may have also noticed the frogs dropping out of the sky as well. Has that happened in your neighborhood yet?

Gomer: “Not that I’ve noticed, no, but…

CC Rep: “Have you checked your main circuit breaker switch to see if it has tripped?”

Gomer: “That’s the first thing I did. It’s in the on position.”

CC Rep: “Well sir, have you checked the outage information map on our website to see your estimated time of restoration?”

Gomer: “It’s been 3 days already and the batteries on my laptop are dead and…

CC Rep: “Do you have our app on your smart phone?”

Gomer: “I’m calling on the only pay phone left in Busted Bridge. Does that tell you something about me having an app?”

CC Rep: “I’m detecting some hostility in your voice there Mr. Newberry.”

Gomer: “Ya Think?”

CC Rep: “Let me try to manage your expectations for you here, Mr. Newberry. You should know that Scrodbasket Electric customers are served by one of the most reliable electrical systems in the nation. Keeping your power flowing is our #1 priority because we know you count on us for reliable electric service. At Scrodbasket, we strive to maintain safe and reliable service to our customers. With more than 100 miles of power lines, outages happen from time to time, whether it is due to high winds, strong thunderstorms, or even ice on the power lines.”

Gomer: “Look, all I want to know is why…”

CC Rep: “…then you would know that our crews work around the clock to restore power to the largest numbers of customers first, taking into account “priority customers” such as hospitals, police and fire stations, water and sewer facilities, communications facilities like TV, radio and telephone, and customers on life-sustaining medical equipment. After all, you wouldn’t want us to give you first priority over all those more deserving customers, now would you Mr. Newberry?”

Gomer: “Of course not.”

CC Rep: “Well then, that’s why your power isn’t on yet. So, on behalf of Scrodbasket Electric, I hope I have managed to meet your expectations, Mr. Newberry.”

Gomer: “You certainly have.”

You can manage people, money, materials and processes, but you can’t manage an “expectation.” Yet we see “manage expectations” cited time and again in emergency preparedness plans. People expect you to restore their power without unnecessary delay. When the lights go out, it’s too late – and often counterproductive – to try to get people to understand your priorities and your processes.

So here are our three top tips for emergency communications planners:

  • Have your community Liaison reps work ceaselessly, year-round to help local officials understand your priorities and process. When the wires are down, you want them on your side, not complaining about you.
  • Always give worst case projections and global ETR’s, the earlier the better. Look like a hero when the lights come on sooner than predicted.

Work hard on depicting actual scenes of damage and restoration work on your website, social media and news media. Videos have become an invaluable tool. It’s one of the best ways to communicate outage information and explain the challenges your people have to deal with.

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