The Ultimate Guide to Outage Communication
January 18, 2024
Being able to effectively recover from emergencies, such as power outages and natural disasters, is essential for utilities. When services go down, there is a domino effect. Businesses and schools are impacted, as well as essential services like hospitals. The end result is a significant disruption to people's daily lives and, at times, their safety. Finding a quick resolution is only part of the process. The other part is communicating with your customers so they understand what's happening and what you're doing to rectify it.
Most customers will forgive companies for issues if they receive excellent service and clear, concise communication. Viewing outages through a customer service lens will help inspire greater loyalty by demonstrating your organization's commitment to serving them well and keeping them safe by sharing vital information.
Whether overseeing a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) or responding to a sudden outage in a specific area, having a clear outage communication plan is critical for your customers.
Outage Communication Tips and Best Practices
When it comes to providing customer service during an outage, the best thing you can do is prepare. Creating an outage communications plan before an incident occurs gives you a roadmap to follow when an emergency does happen so you can focus on providing timely service rather than figuring out what to do next.
This guide to outage communications provides actionable tips you can use to help your customers and improve their overall experience.
1. Choose Effective Communication Channels
Everyone uses different communication channels in their day-to-day lives. That's why one of the most critical considerations when creating your outage communication plan is determining which channels you'll use to reach out to your customers.
Using a multi-channel communication approach is essential. Meeting your customers where they are increases the chances they'll see your messages. A centralized platform like KUBRA Notifi® empowers your customers by allowing them to tailor their communication preferences. This ensures they receive updates and notifications according to their wishes, helping them stay informed on their terms.
2. Define Roles for Executing Your Plan
Designating who is responsible for each part of your outage communication plan is essential for preventing friction from getting in the way of efficient updates. It helps to choose one person who will be in charge of coordinating all customer communication.
Designating someone to coordinate communications can help ensure more timely updates by reducing the number of touchpoints messages must pass through before being sent to customers. This will keep information moving as close to real time as possible.
If your company is larger and you need multiple people to handle these tasks, ensure they know their responsibilities in an emergency. No one should have an overlapping role unless more people are required to fulfill the role effectively. Avoiding duplicating efforts maximizes timeliness and eliminates the risk of repeat messages.
3. Acknowledge the Situation
The first item on your outage communication checklist should always be to alert your customers of the outage as soon as you become aware of it. Proactive communication, even if it includes bad news, helps boost customer satisfaction by showing you're on top of the situation and can help unify everyone experiencing the same problem.
Make sure you have answers to the following questions as you draft your initial communication:
- When did the outage begin?
- How long are you expecting the outage to last?
- What is the extent of the outage? Does it affect your whole service area or only specific portions?
- Is the outage affecting all your customers equally, or are some more impacted than others?
- What is your company doing to resolve the problem?
Try to ensure your answer to each question is as detailed as possible. The more you know, the more clearly you can convey that information to your customers.
4. Provide Regular Updates
When the power goes out, the last thing your customers want is to be left in the dark — literally, in this case. Your customers need to know you're taking the situation seriously, and keeping them in the loop about your progress will demonstrate that you are.
A general rule of thumb is to send out an update every 30 minutes to an hour, though the ideal update frequency ultimately depends on the severity of the situation. Wide-reaching, lengthy outages will almost always require more frequent updates than short outages contained within a small area. Generally, though, sending an alert whenever you get new information is a good idea.
Additionally, be specific when wording your updates. Being too vague about what's going on often leaves your customers with more questions than they may have had before receiving the message, which can damage your credibility.
5. Be Consistent in Communication
Creating update templates can help save time and ensure consistent messaging across all your channels. Here are some tips for creating good templates:
- Consult with engineers: Discuss your outage communication plan with your engineers. They can help you identify outage trends, such as which areas or services are most vulnerable, so you can be prepared for the most likely outages.
- Write to your audience: It's important to use clear, simple language in your updates to ensure your customers understand what's happening. You can still convey technical information about the causes but keep high-level terminology to a minimum.
- Stay professional: It's best to prioritize professionalism. Carefully consider how your communications can affect your company's overall reputation.
- Include helpful links: Direct your customers to online resources like FAQs, a status page, or an interactive outage map they can use to stay informed and keep themselves safe.
You'll also want to ensure everyone in your organization has access to the same data so they can provide the best service possible. For example, your customer service team needs to be on the same page as your field workers to answer customer questions about the situation accurately.
6. Be Transparent and Honest
Try to avoid making promises you may be unable to keep. If your field workers are still diagnosing the problem, for example, it's better to tell your customers that you are investigating the cause of the outage than to say it will be resolved soon.
Being upfront and honest with your customers will also help them stay safe if the situation is a true emergency. If the power goes out during an ice storm, for example, being transparent can help your customers decide whether they need to seek emergency help and when.
7. Apologize and Empathize
Even if the cause of the outage had nothing to do with your company, it's always best to take ownership of the incident and focus on how to best repair any damage. Apologizing to your customers can positively influence their perception of your company by making them feel heard.
Here are some helpful tips for creating an effective apology message:
- Describe your plan: Clearly explain the steps you have taken to identify and resolve the issue. Additionally, outline what your company will do to prevent it from happening again. Providing a clear action plan helps build customer trust.
- Empathize: Customers want to feel heard when outages and emergencies disrupt their lives. Customizable templates can help ensure your apology letter demonstrates that you understand how the outage affected your customers without requiring your customer service team to spend excessive time drafting individual emails.
Once you've apologized, document the process you followed for future reference. Sharing your apology process documentation with external stakeholders is important, as it demonstrates your reliability in emergencies.
8. Be Proactive
If your system will undergo a planned outage, let your customers know as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly. The same general rules apply for emergencies and unplanned outages — be apologetic, keep customers updated on what's going on, and offer alternatives if possible.
However, it would be best if you prioritized advance notice for planned outages. Aim to inform your customers at least one or two weeks in advance and be completely transparent about the reason for the outage. Provide a conservative estimate of how long the outage will last, and send a thank you message after your services go back online to express your gratitude for your customers' patience.
You can also post an announcement on social media, encouraging customers to ask questions via comments or direct messages. The more specific information you can provide, the better.
How KUBRA Can Support Your Outage Communication Plan
If your organization needs a centralized communication solution to enable you to get in touch quickly and easily with your customers, consider working with KUBRA. We designed our communication and customer service solutions to help you provide the best experience possible.
KUBRA Notifi Alerts and Preference Management
Customers are most likely to receive your messages when you reach out using their preferred communication channels. Notifi, our unified customer communication platform, can help you build a wide multi-channel network that includes all your customers.
Notifi's broadcast tool enables companies to alert all registered customers at the touch of a button so they can get the information they need right away. From there, you can send updates and alerts directly through the user-friendly platform for maximum efficiency.
The Notifi self-service portal gives customers unparalleled flexibility and control over their preferences. Any time they need to make a change, they can log in and enter their new preferences. Plus, integration with your company's mobile app enables even greater versatility for users on the go.
Notifi is compatible with various communication channels, such as:
Notifi also adheres to many different communications regulations, including TCPA, TRACED Act, and CAN-SPAM, simplifying compliance management for your organization.
IncidentWatch™ and Storm Center™
IncidentWatch™ streamlines incident reporting, offering customers an easy way to notify service providers of outdoor lighting or infrastructure issues via an intuitive map interface. It leverages location-based services to pinpoint issues and updates the map to reflect ongoing repairs. IncidentWatch is versatile, catering to various needs such as gas leak detection, infrastructure assessment, water utility, and wildfire monitoring.
Storm Center™ is designed specifically to keep customers in the know during severe weather incidents. Its flexible infrastructure lets you easily add and remove layers as needed to include the most relevant information for your customers. From storm tracking to checking utility status, your customers will have the reassurance that your company is there to help them through the worst.
Our Map Layers module creates a set of additional overlays customers can access to find critical information, such as:
- Outage causes
- Outage start times
- Repair crew statuses
- Future planned outages
- Links to digital resources
- Estimated restoration times
- Nearby emergency resources
- Number of affected customers
Communicate Better With KUBRA
At KUBRA, we understand the enormous impact of customer satisfaction on a business. We're dedicated to helping companies ensure their customers have top-tier service experiences.
We offer various customer service and communication software solutions for organizations in many diverse industries, from utilities to government. So, if your company has been looking for an effective customer communications solution, we can help.
See how our customer experience solutions for utility companies can boost customer satisfaction, cut operational costs, and streamline compliance management for your organization. Request a live demo today.