Powering up to deal with winter storms

When super storms strike and the power starts to go out, the first thing that happens is a massive increase in inbound calls to customer service lines, typically within 15 minutes. Utilities need to proactively reach out to affected customers with customized messaging to address service disruptions.
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We’re barely 60 days in to 2014 and we’ve already seen two Polar Vortex storms and widespread weather-related outages around the country. The National Weather Service has issued multiple winter storm warnings and advisories from the central Appalachian Mountains north to southern New England, including all of the Middle Atlantic States. The severe weather has caused at least 21 cold-related deaths across the country since Jan. 5.

With temperatures reaching their lowest levels in 20 years, utilities across the country have been reeling as thousands have lost power. And demand spiked to record levels across much of the East. For these companies, it’s been nothing like business as usual.

Record Power Demand during the Polar Vortex

Company New Record Previous Record
Duke Energy Indiana 7,214 MW 6,975 MW (2009)
Duke Energy Ohio/Kentucky 5,105 MW 4,599 MW (2009)
Duke Energy Carolinas 20,246 MW 18,985 MW (2009)
Duke Energy Progress 14,190 MW 13,884 MW (2010)
PPL (Pennsylvania ) 7,784 MW 7,577 MW (2007)
Southern Company Georgia Power 16,859 MW 15,806 MW (2010)
Southern Company Gulf Power 2,694 MW 2,634 MW (2007)
Dominion Resources Virginia Power 19,730 MW 18,079 MW (2007)

Source: Duke Energy, PPL, Southern Company, Dominion Resources news releases

When super storms strike and the power starts to go out, the first thing that happens is a massive increase in inbound calls to customer service lines, typically within 15 minutes. Customers are demanding timely answers to why their power is out and what the estimated time of restoration (ETR) is. Call centers can quickly become overwhelmed and wait times grow.

Utilities need to proactively reach out to affected customers with customized messaging to address service disruptions. Any failure to communicate quickly and clearly puts customer satisfaction ratings at risk, something no utility company wants. Varolii, now part of Nuance Communications, has worked with a number of regional utilities to help them adapt to fast-changing circumstances and keep customers happy with timely updates.

Pennsylvania–based PPL Electric serves about 1.4 million customers across 29 counties. PPL leveraged automated outbound technology to send voice blasts to all its customers during Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. During their outreach efforts, they opted-in more than 60,000 customers for outage alerts in a multi-channel effort spanning voice, SMS, email and social media.

In spite of the terrible impact Sandy had, PPL customers came through the event expressing 80-90% satisfaction rates with the company’s alerts system. PPL continues to rely on us today to help them communicate effectively during these winter storms.

Our platform leverages Outage Management System data to provide a personalized message on ETR.  It enables utility management to conduct proactive, large-scale outbound efforts and combines the best in automated outreach and self-service capabilities.

By combining voice and text in a cross-channel integration, customers get the information they need, through the channels they prefer, leading to higher satisfaction with their utility provider. And automated solutions that deliver messages you can customize on the fly help reduce costs and the headaches that come from managing outage communications.

These solutions can also be used for the kind of unplanned, recurring notifications that utilities are often required to send. For example, if severe weather is disrupting life all around town, you may want to extend billing due dates.  Cost effective, on-demand outreach is the answer.

We know that customers have high expectations for staying informed during an outage. The storms will keep coming. Are you ready to deliver?

Sources:

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Nick Beatty

About Nick Beatty

Nick Beatty, senior account director at Nuance Outbound, brings more than 15 years of experience in managing enterprise corporate accounts across CRM, collections, utilities and cloud applications and solutions.