About nine out of 10 respondents to a recent survey of electricity customers from the U.S. and Canada considered it important or very important that their utility let them know when the power will be out due to maintenance.
This aspect of outage communications was even more important to the 1,500 utility customers who were surveyed than estimated times of restoration (ETOR), which is often the primary concern for utilities seeking to improve in this area.
Electric utilities should keep this customer preference in mind as they begin to install new smart grid technologies and make other infrastructure improvements that will require short- or long-term power shutdowns, says Scott Johnson, Chartwell senior research analyst.
"With the rollout of smart metering programs across the country, utilities have a unique opportunity to reach out to customers and keep them fully informed, thus turning a potentially negative situation into a positive one. Utilities that perform well may be able to improve their customer satisfaction and build goodwill that will prove useful should they be faced with a major outage in the future," Johnson says.
The survey was conducted in October. Details of the outage communications survey questions, which included utility customer preferences for contact channels and opinions on social media, are provided exclusively to members of the Chartwell Outage Communications Group, a membership-based service. Participation helps members improve outage communications programs and customer satisfaction through collaborative consulting, sharing practices, and building relationships.
Outage Communications Group members include some of the largest and best utilities in the U.S. and Canada. Chartwell conducts group-directed research and serves as a repository for information gathered on technologies and concepts. To date, Chartwell has identified a number of significant outage communication trends concerning ETOR targets and accuracy, text messaging and mobile Web, and "blue-sky" performance. The group has also looked at proactive communication in front of planned outages.