Superstorm Sandy showed that when it comes to manpower, resources to execute normal operations are becoming scarcer. A new strategy is required to coordinate disaster response and recovery.
Connecting Before the Storm
also means a lexicon that’s understood and embraced by the entire organization.
This is critical for utilities that hope to break through the clutter. Because most regulated utilities have tight marketing budgets, they’ll never be able to reach consumers like a major marketer. So they must build a positive foundation. They must prime the conversation because when disaster strikes, customers will search the Internet for information about it, talk to their friends and family, and vent on social networks. And if a utility hasn’t laid the groundwork, the conversation will be entirely defined on customers’ terms.
To lay the foundation, all utility personnel must deliver the same message – from linemen, to customer service reps, to the CEO. It’s not easy, but it gives utilities a fighting chance.
Finally, it’s about staying positive. In the context of violent weather, positive really means focusing on the future. Utilities can’t rest on their laurels. Customers want to hear visions for the future and what a utility is doing every day to make it happen. This is tough because many times the natural gaze of a utility is backwards. Rate cases are almost always about recovery costs, based on earlier test periods. Regardless, utilities have to find future-focused messages that people can get behind and deliver.
When customers ask “what happened?” utilities must remember that they’re actually asking “what will you do about it?” And only when customers feel their utility is charting a better, more positive path to the future will they believe that utility is a competent manager of the energy they need to run their lives.
Changing utility communication habits won’t be easy. Utility executives are a heads-down, hard-working crew. But if utilities are going to continue to operate as is, change needs to occur on many fronts. One of the most essential changes, and possibly the easiest one to make, is how they communicate.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Thayer Fox and Patrick Buckley are vice presidents at maslansky + partners, a public opinion and messaging strategy firm in New York.