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Utility companies feeling the heat

21 February 2014 | 01:23 am

Are-You-Plugged-In1The challenge facing utility companies as social media becomes an intrinsic part of the customer service engagement arsenal is immense. Customers often only notice their existence when the lights go out, or the flood water comes in.

The public is no longer willing to wait for corporate statements from the communications teams to be published or announced. Utility companies have little choice but to move away from traditional customer service communications and crisis management and move across to social media because that’s where their customers are choosing to voice their concerns and communicate.

When the electricity fails people still have access to mobile phones and tablets, the percentage of the population who use tablets or smartphones is expected to reach 70% in 2014. This is more than enough users to keep most of the local population informed.

There have been many incidents recently where prolonged rainfall has caused  flooding. Which, in turn has led to outages over vast areas. Unable to reach customer service phone lines, customers look to Twitter for news.

Cutting the costs

Channel shifting can also produce cost savings. According to InGov in a 2013 report, organisations need to look at the scale of the financial returns from channel shift, especially during time of budget cuts and public perception. Face to face transactions costs on average £8.62 and telephone interaction costs on average £2.83. While web and social media interaction costs less than .15p.

However savings can only be realised if the social media channels are monitored and responded to and have the correct risk prevention measures in place. If not, there is a real danger of not being able to respond to the client effectively, causing the customer service function to fail.

There are many examples as to how utility companies in North America  have handled some of the largest disasters. Which are generally on a scale much larger than anything faced in Europe.

Tennesee floods

During the 2010 Tennessee Floods. 19 inches of rain fell in some areas and caused widespread flooding and 21 deaths. Flooding caused outages for at least three days in downtown Nashville, leaving 42,000 residents without power.

Nashville Electric Service (NES) put their social media plan into effect The Social Media Manager and PR teams worked to answer each individual tweet, and continued working for two weeks to be sure all questions were answered.

Over the years, NES had built up a community of support through social media. Negative or critical comments left on Twitter were often met with supportive comments from other users.

Summer storms

Over 4 week period in 2011, two severe weather systems knocked out power to 400,00 and 852,000 customers.

Normally, outage reports are only taken through Commonwealth Eddison’s (ComEd) outage hotline, but as phone systems were stressed and customers took to Twitter, ComEd responded by developing a new Twitter-friendly processes for accepting outage reports. Staff members were trained on how to transfer users’ information for the most seamless process possible, and employees worked around the clock to settle customers’ concerns.


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