If nothing else, last year was one for the record books for utility companies and their customers.
17 named storms and 10 hurricanes (6 of them major) took a huge toll - physically, emotionally, and financially. During Hurricane Irma alone over 7.4 million householders in the Southeast states lost power, according to Reuters. Florida Power & Light Company put together a team of nearly 20,000 workers for restoration efforts in what was described as possibly the largest power restoration project in U.S. history.
While forecasters are not expecting a repeat of last year's ferocity, they are predicting a season above average in activity. So even as communities across the southern U.S. and Caribbean struggle to recover and rebuild, preparations for the 2018 hurricane season have begun.
Utilities have been busy investing in new technology and "storm-hardened" infrastructure to ensure they are better prepared for this and future storm seasons. Likewise, investing in a proactive communications plan will be vital to minimizing the customer service fallout of an active storm season. A solid plan will keep customers informed and prepared well in advance of whatever may come, with the best of these plans utilizing both inbound and outbound call center best practices.
Inbound Call Center Best Practices
Nothing elevates the stress for customers or the strain on customer service operations like storm related outages. Ensuring the timely delivery of important information even while incoming call volume swells is the difficult, yet essential task for your utility. While deploying an "all hands on deck" approach may provide short-term relief, it also depletes resources that may be more valuable elsewhere. Instead of "borrowing" highly skilled staff to answer redundant outage queries, many utilities now use smart technology to automate that process.
With the benefit of full integration into a utility's customer information system (CIS) and output management system (OMS) environments, advanced interactive voice response (IVR) detects pertinent information including caller ID and location to immediately deliver Known Outage Announcements and Estimated Restoration Times. Callers may also use intuitive menu prompts to report a new outage and request a call back when service is restored. In most cases this completes the call and removes it from the queue in a fraction of the time of a similar live agent interaction.
Outbound Call Center Best Practices
Proactive outbound notification has proven to be an effective tactic for reducing the incoming call volume while maintaining a high level of customer service quality. Through intelligent application of data pulled from the CIS and OMS, the IVR automatically delivers known outage announcements to a particular area. The messages may be customized to include updated news, safety instructions, and other relevant information.
Automated outbound dialing is also an efficient tool for general broadcasts such as hurricane preparation reminders, shelter locations, and planned outages or service reductions. This keeps customers involved, engaged and less likely to panic during an emergency.
The end result is a dramatic reduction in call volume, with an equally dramatic reduction in employee stress and customer frustration. The delivery of valuable and timely service also helps to boost customer loyalty and protect your utility's reputation.
Make a Sound Investment in Customer Service
Your customer service agents serve daily as the face of your organization, and as it's front line in times of emergency. Any investment that aims to reduce the effects of violent weather on your utility's infrastructure must include an investment in your utility's ability to maintain customer contact. A little investment buys a lot of storm protection where you need it most; on your customer service front line.
CenturionCARES has a nearly four-decade history of providing the communications infrastructure and value-added services that enable a variety of Utility clients to deliver superior customer experiences in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Contact us today if you'd like to share your storm response story or learn more about CenturionCARES customer service solutions for Utilities.