Why comms, comms, comms should be the energy companies’ new year resolution

Being based up here in the sunny north east we have thankfully missed the worst of the flooding and power failures this festive season, but friends and colleagues round the country have suffered – our sympathies are with them in cleaning up what must be a horrendous mess.

Picking up on the public and social media comment the most common complaint (as ever it seems) is all about the failure of companies to communicate with customers about what is happening and when it will be fixed.

Why is this always the case, and do the alleged poor standards of customer service really reflect the reality?

Christmas really presented the perfect storm (sorry). Staffing and other resources were depleted over the break, and the number, frequency and intensity of the storms was almost unprecedented, so I have great sympathy with the communications and customer service teams trying to piece things together with scant information and unhappy customers.

Getting the communications right on these occasions can really reap rewards, and technology has to be at the heart of the solution. Earlier in the year we lost water at home and our provider, Northumbrian Water, was outstanding in the way they communicated with customers on a Saturday morning about the issue for what was a fairly localised problem.

An alert on the front page of the website might be expected (but still pretty good for 8.45am on a Saturday) but to get two texts that morning telling me about the problem, when it would be fixed and how to find out more was a great example of pro-active customer service.

UK Power Networks decision to increase payouts for those affected over Christmas was similarly effective, but on a much bigger scale. Customers no doubt welcomed the extra cash, but what this announcement also did was put the company on the front foot with the national media and gave them an opportunity to hit the airwaves for a 24-hour period and talk about what they were doing to fix the problem, which they did well.

Weather happens and it’s getting worse, most of us get that and will accept it has impacts, but what we won’t accept in 2014 is a failure to communicate. The energy companies (and others) have much to think about moving forward.

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