Three tips for turning power outages into winning opportunities

By Russ Henderson, Senior Research Manager –

A badly handled power outage can pulverize even the most hard-won utility brand.

Yet some utilities can take even massively large outage events, such as wildfires or hurricanes, and turn them into opportunities to improve customer satisfaction while avoiding major reliability losses.

Don’t miss the chance to upgrade your own utility’s communication and restoration capabilities by coming to PowerUp: Chartwell’s Outage Conference on June 1-2 in Denver.

The conference is just three months away, so register now.

Chartwell has been conducting research and hosting events about the importance of customer experience before, during and after power outages for a long time (since the year the iPhone came out, in fact!).

This year, for our 14th annual conference, we have taken on the new name “PowerUp” while offering our strongest agenda ever with high-energy speakers from industry leaders like Duke Energy, Xcel Energy, SCE, Hydro One, Ameren Missouri, Hydro Ottawa and SDG&E.

We are taking the conference to a new level by expanding from a day-and-a-half to a full two days of content. And while in the past we focused entirely on outage communications, this year we have added sessions about how utilities can improve their reliability and speed of restoration, as well.

This year, Chartwell presented awards in both Outage Restoration as well as Outage Communications. Our 2020 award winners were announced last week.

Here are a few best practices from those award winners, whom you will get to meet and learn from in person at PowerUp in June:

Leverage analytics and situational intelligence.

Outages are a major customer experience challenge in part because of what might be called the “fog of war.” It is difficult to determine what is happening and how to respond. Chartwell’s Gold Best Practices in Outage Communications winner Con Edison designed and implemented a new customer and outage analytics dashboard that allows the utility to monitor and respond to customer needs in real time during an outage event.

Our Gold Best Practices in Outage Restoration winner was Hydro One. The company’s analytics-based storm restoration improvement initiative improved SAIDI by 18% and customer satisfaction by 8%. Vital to that success has been IBM’s Weather Company Outage Prediction solution, said Robert Haromszeki, Sr. Manager, Emergency Management & Compliance.

“The longer we use the solution, the more accurate it gets. It’s getting smarter,” Haromszeki said. “It’s expensive to move crews in advance of a storm. If you go to that expense and the predictions are wrong, you lose credibility. Over time, people have gained more confidence in the tool and are relying on what it’s telling us.”

Build a cross-functional team involving all stakeholders.

Improving outage communications and restoration requires bridging the gap between various departments within the organization, and winning utilities create regular coordination through a cross-functional team. Gold winner Con Edison leveraged its journey mapping team, in collaboration with other internal departments, to design and implement its analytics dashboard. All departments had to collaborate to ensure that all important customer touchpoints were addressed.

Gold winner Hydro One’s effort involved far more than merely implementing an analytics tool. It required a complete overhaul of systems and processes. The work was driven by Hydro One’s systems operations group but was supported by all key stakeholders in the organization. The initiative began by bringing these stakeholders together. This work resulted in the “vision and mission” that drove the project.

“Having every stakeholder at the table was absolutely vital,” said Robert Haromszeki, Sr. Manager, Emergency Management & Compliance.

Align people and systems to speak with one voice.

A common challenge in outage communications is incoherence. Various channels are often managed by different vendors or different parts of the organization, meaning that during an outage, customers will receive very different information depending on whether they use text, email, the outage map, social media or other channels.

Ameren Missouri will take home the Silver Outage Communications Award for its Outage Communication Hub, which operates as a data communications layer that works in tandem with the utility’s Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) to provide centralized management, configuration and processing of all of Ameren’s electric outage-related messaging to customers.

Real-time communication is becoming an expectation among both customers and employees. Join us in Denver to learn how the utility industry is applying technology and processes to meet changing customer expectations and improve operational efficiencies. For more information about PowerUp: Chartwell’s Outage Conference, contact me at rhenderson@chartwellinc.com.

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