Six Characteristics of Award-Winning Outage Communications – Part Two: Channels and Tactics

By Russ Henderson, Senior Research Manager –

In last week’s blog, we discussed the importance of strategy and internal organization for building an exceptional outage communications program. Now, let’s discuss the channels and tactics that are most effective in communicating with customers during both blue-sky and storm outages.

Provide communication via customers’ preferred channels

Today, it’s increasingly important to have a “mobile-first” strategy. Utility industry professionals surveyed by Chartwell named mobile-app and text-based customer service as the most important developments in outage communications over the next five years.

This is understandable. In the future, utility customers are likely to expect mobile-based customer service. According to Pew Research, 96% of Americans own a smartphone of some kind. Screen time has been escalating rapidly, especially since the COVID lockdowns began in March 2020. A mid-2020 Foster Grant survey conducted by OnePoll revealed the average American’s digital screen time had increased 50%, from approximately 4 hours per day pre-pandemic to more than 6 hours per day during the pandemic.

Utilities, as well the partners who manage outage communications channels for the industry, have seen steady increases in traffic via mobile devices in recent years.

This could be seen during the Texas power crisis of February 2021. According to KUBRA, which is by far the biggest third party outage map provider in the industry, of the more than 14 million interactions their outage maps got in all the various affected states during the peak of the Texas power crisis, about 85% were from mobile devices. Even during blue-sky days, 75% of map views are from mobile devices.

This lines up will with Chartwell consumer data, which shows that the most-preferred outage communications channels are text, email, outbound voice and mobile app.

Now, let’s take a look at the channels that utilities use to communicate about outages. Almost every utility uses an outage map, about three fourths offer outage information via IVR and CSR, between 55 and 60% offer push alerts trough text or email, and about the same number now offer mobile apps, according to industry survey and audit data.

During major events, the complexion changes. The map, CSR and IVR remain very important, of course, but during storms social media including Facebook and Twitter come into play along with website banner messaging.

For many utilities, push alerts now play an important role during storms. Not so long ago, most utilities that had push alerts turned them off during major events in order to prevent incorrect information from being communicated to customers. That’s not the case anymore – utilities have generally resolved those issues.

During storms, a significant number of utilities now also produce video interviews with utility leaders or staff meteorologists that they then promote on social media.

Employ a variety of tactics

Channels are only part of the story, these days. Today, utilities use a variety of tactics during major events including: representatives embedded at service centers who act like reporters and provide information back to the control center that they can use to communicate with customers; contacts with homeowners associations; branded vehicles to provide outreach; and employee ambassadors who repost utility info on social media.

The utilities that are most effective during storm events use most or all of these tactics to one degree or another.

Be on the lookout in the next few weeks for my next blog, which will discuss customer experience metrics for outages as well as the importance of being agile with one’s outage communications approach.