20150105touchstone136Effective communicators understand the importance of good outage communication. Inbound messages bring outage intelligence—how many outages are occurring and where they are located. Outbound outage communication keeps cooperative members informed and takes pressure off of overburdened telephone lines and other communication channels. One relatively new tool, outage texting, accomplishes all of these goals while giving cooperatives a new resource that truly fits member’s expectations in a digital age.
For generations, the telephone has been the connection to cooperative members when the power goes out. But large outages bring an overwhelming flood of calls, an asset intensive challenge requiring dozens of phone lines, call center staff, and seemingly endless hours of fielding repeated member calls. And cooperative members are compelled to do one of the things they hate most—dial in hoping to get through. “Electric customers of all ages live with a cellphone in their hand,” says Kim Broun, Tri-County EMC’s communication specialist. “Our outage texting lets members do business the way they want, quickly and in control.”

For companies such as TextPower, one of the biggest providers in the marketplace, outage texting programs give co-ops a seemingly perfect solution. Working in conjunction with an IVR and outage management system, texts from members become a virtual conversation, giving members a simple way to report an outage instantly and providing real-time information throughout the outage. TextPower’s system interfaces with industry common IVR systems such as Milsoft and is now being used by call center providers such as Cooperative Response Center (CRC). And the outage text conversation can be initiated by either the cooperative or the member.

“Simply by texting ‘OUT’ to our unique shortcode, a member receives an immediate response to verify the location of the outage should the member have multiple accounts.” commented Broun. As crew members are assigned to the outage or begin work on-site, that information is available to be shared and members also receive a text back when power has been restored. Other information such as estimated time of restoration (ETOR) can also be shared.

One other unique feature of the outage texting program is the “STATUS” command. “Regardless of an outage, when a member sends “STATUS,” the system tells them if an outage has been reported that affects them,” says Broun.  “For the large number of lake homes we serve, or for any member who might be away and wanting to know if a widespread outage affects them before coming home, it’s a nice tool.”

It’s no secret that customer service satisfaction ratings associated with outage restoration go up when members are given the answer to a few basic but challenging questions; “Do you know my power is out? Why is it out? When will it be back on?” Outage texting allows cooperatives to provide those answers in seconds, without the need for a phone call. “We’re very excited to see the long-term impact of this new program,” commented Broun. “Giving members an easy tool to use while being able to field literally hundreds of outage messages in seconds is a win-win for us all.”