Since Obama won reelection, we must ask whether we’d rather have EPA cracking down on carbon emissions, or whether a legislated framework would be better for everyone.
Connecting Before the Storm
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, utilities are already facing huge pressure to create smarter energy delivery and stronger infrastructure, all while keeping prices down.
But as Rahm Emmanuel famously said four years ago in the wake of the financial superstorm, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” It’s important for utilities to understand that the extreme weather last fall not only underscores the need for operational improvements, it also introduces profound implications for how utilities communicate.
This goes way beyond the concept that utilities must communicate better during storms. This is about changing the way they communicate long after power is restored and the visible work ends. It’s about a new language – a comprehensive shift in how and when utilities reach customers, the words they use, and the way they frame the conversation. It’s an opportunity that utilities should embrace.
The need for this shift stems from the fact that customers don’t value the work utilities do each day. They take it for granted because energy is by nature a behind-the-scenes business. This is an industry of engineers who solve problems and don’t boast.
When everything is running smoothly most utilities see no need to communicate. The lights go on, and customers don’t think much about how or why. But that’s changing with violent weather. Everyone thinks about their electricity when a major storm knocks it out. Everyone asks questions. And in response utilities are playing catch-up to rebuild a positive dialogue with customers.
These same customers who ask the tough questions when their power is out don’t think of all the proactive work the industry does to keep homes, schools and hospitals up and running during normal weather. This is because no one is telling them about it. Utilities need to tell that story to regain public support and boost their perceived value. And they need a new language to tell it.
So how should utilities define this new language? While each utility is unique, the new language should embrace three principals: it should be active, consistent and positive.
Active means establishing a deeper dialogue. Many utilities have started doing this through efficiency tips and tools. This type of proactive outreach must extend to the actual work utilities do every day. It must signal to customers that for utilities, the work never stops. As an example, utilities should highlight the role they’re taking in researching innovative ways to improve a community’s power supply.
In times of crisis, active means anticipating instead of responding. After a storm the papers flood with stories of customer complaints and angry mayors. And utilities mostly react. This dynamic must change to one where utilities actively push solutions and engage communities before their leaders come calling. An active position tells customers that their utility doesn’t just pop up each time a power line goes down or rates need adjustment. If nothing else, customers should know this: their utility is dedicated to helping protect the people of the towns and cities in its territory.
Consistent means a steady drumbeat. It