For utilities, whether incumbents or newcomers, the ground is shifting – shifting fast. Customer engagement is at an all-time high, owing to a combination of factors: new technology, shifts in public policy, and just, pure economics.
What’s more, change will only intensify. Increases in customer engagement, for one, are all but certain to continue. In turn, companies must meet those expectations in order to ensure a positive customer experience, especially for hyper-engaged customers.
That’s easier said than done. Serving customers with disparate needs throughout the complex customer journey is difficult, perhaps at no time more so than during an outage, be it a planned, unplanned, or momentary outage.
But why? Why are keeping up with customer outage experience expectations so difficult for utilities? Well, we have some guesses. So, we’re laying out the most significant customer service challenges utilities face when dealing with outage management. And since no one likes challenges without solutions, we’re offering some of those, too, specifically incident management technology utilities can implement to meet their customer’s expectations.
It’s no secret: key aspects of outage and incident response remain relics of a by-gone era. Often, when major incidents take place, mobile command units, if available, are called to the scene, which becomes the hub of operations. From there, coordinators reach out to engineers, who’re then tasked with responding directly to the incident when they arrive.
Once everyone’s on call, the parties are reliant on a steady stream of accurate, incident information. But here’s the rub: because of manual processes and structures which limit situational awareness, the responding teams often feel like they’re running blind, without consistent access to reliable data. Outage management systems reliant on access to information from customers, in particular, face their own set of unique challenges, the biggest being the fact that only 30 percent of customers actually call in about their power outages.
In turn, engineers are unable to get sufficiently granular data about the actual coordinates of the incident in question. Further, incident coordinators don’t receive timely, relevant incident data, like homes turned on and off, number and location of vulnerable customers, and accessibility to properties. That’s the kind of valuable information that should get fed back to engineers in the field and transmitted out to customers; though customers might not readily relay outage information to utilities, customers definitely expect relevant information from utilities. In fact, it’s a core expectation for engaged customers; as Rod Walton puts it in Electric Light and Power:
…let us count the ways that customers want to know about the when, why and how long of their disrupted power. Communication is key, whether by computer, cell phone or even door to door if it's local enough. And they don't want to just passively wait for the outage alert; they want a two-way route to ask questions and get specifics.
What’s more, field engineers, responsible for providing some of the data that should flow to customers and coordinators, are often being hamstrung by a number of rudimentary processes. First, they have to fill out physical addresses on paper, before coordinators input the information into spreadsheets.
As you’d imagine, the likelihood of unintentionally delayed and inaccurate reporting always increases with these kinds of manual interventions. And the consequences thereof aren’t just felt during the incident response, either. Manual processes also slow down the re-charge process, i.e. when third parties are directly responsible for causing an incident that the primary utility’s engineers must then resolve.
The challenge, there, is a utility can’t get reimbursed by a third party without proving that they’ve done the work. With overly manual processes in place, task reporting can sometimes take upwards of a month, per major incident, slowing the recharge process down to a crawl. Utilities, at times, then find themselves settling for lower payments from vendors, losing hundreds of thousands in revenue per year, because their engineers lack the evidence of work completed during an incident.
With hyper-engaged customers clamoring for superior customer service, utilities simply can’t afford to eat the costs of ineffective outage management. Instead, they need to move past homespun processes and procure advanced incident management technology.
What are some key procurement factors to consider? At a minimum, reliable, accessible, and scalable outage management technology should enable teams to monitor outages at the customer level and synthesize data from numerous sources.
Here, Noggin, the world’s leading platform for integrated incident and risk management, provides the best bang for your buck. Noggin keeps utilities secure and operating smoothly, with all the information and tools needed to effectively manage safety, security, business disruption, and business continuity – from the smallest incident or service outage to a major crisis or emergency. Tailor information, reports, views, and workflows at any time, without IT intervention or extra development. Additional functionality includes an industry-specific library of solutions: forms, templates, workflows, and dashboards.
What else do you get with Noggin?
- Utility service disruption incident management, escalation and incident reporting
- Dispatch or response resources to restore supply
- Identification of vulnerable customers for prioritization and support services to mitigate the impact of service disruption
- Integration with customer information management systems for customer address information
- Map addresses affected by the service disruption
- Capture of time cards for each event with engineer name, property, time began, time ended, and duration spent (for cost recovery purposes)
- Notifications of service outage and restoration status updates to affected customers
- Mobile app for engineers to update activity status, report incident case notes, identify vulnerable individuals and households, record multiple access attempts, and to record time sheets, and to upload field data, images and video
Kenneth Costello, The Energy Bar Association: The Challenges of New Electricity Customer Engagement for Utilities and State Regulators
Lily Ho, Electric Light and Power: Proactive Outage Response, Without Waiting for OMS
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