In light of recent developments regarding Pepco and the recent "rare derecho storm", I thought it relevant to discuss why Pepco did such a poor job of communicating with its customers about power restoration.
I'm not a power engineer, and I've never run a public utility, although I did serve as a government employee at one of the regulatory agencies that does so. I have no idea how to fix a power line or get a generator back on line. However, the poor communication strategy that Pepco displayed since last Friday is important for those of us in the field of communications strategy to discuss, and especially in light of changing technologies, digital strategy.
The challenge in all communications is setting expectations for people, and on this front, Pepco fails miserably. Here are 7 things they need to change:
1. The Pepco App: I'm not sure who built this and why. It has 4 menu items:
- Pay My Bill
- My Outage
- Outage Map
- Contact Us
It's the Outage Map that really infuriates me. The thing was worthless from beginning to end, and even though I got power back last night, it still shows that my neighborhood will come back online by Friday, July 6--a full week after we first lost power.
Why not just allow people to put in their address and zip code? Then the "app" will text them or call them when work crews are in the area? If all an app does is infuriate people, then it's a good idea to change it or retire it. The app was not designed with the user in mind--or the power engineers. Should the crews in the field be responsible for updating estimated times for power restoration? There is full developed technology available to automate a lot of this communication. Use it Pepco.
2. Media Communication: I have to commend both The Washington Post and WTOP for excellent coverage on the storm and the power outages. Today, Tuesday, was the first day I heard the CEO of Pepco, Thomas H. Graham, on radio commercials, discussing safety to the crews as well as how hard they were working. Those radio spots should be written and recorded before any major storms and ready to deploy the minute they know there are power outages of this magnitude. They don't have to be specific and they don't need to say more then, "We're doing the best we can." Learn it from the boy scouts, old boys, "Be prepared."
3. How they Set Priority: Why isn't there a short microsite that people can read through on how Pepco determines how to set priority about which neighborhoods to turn on? According to Pepco, hospitals, traffic lights and water treatment plants are of priority. Put that on your website! Spend the time when you haven't lost power to create a short explanation of how Pepco runs every single power outage so that individuals feel educated about exactly what Pepco is doing. In fact, include in the app this sequence and have the app show where in the sequence Pepco is during the power restoration effort.
4. Education is priority: Send out brochures with bills. Run radio spots throughout the year. Teach people that during storms they need to stay away from downed wires. Use the website or app to give short articles on what to do with food and frozen items and how long they are safe to consume after a power outage.
Why wait till it really matters? I learned to stop, drop and roll in school when I was in fourth grade. Pepco should be educating elementary kids, high school kids and adults using a variety of programs so people know what to do during a storm. Because....
5. Your consumers' priorities don't match yours: The only thing people really care about is when their power is going to come back on. @pepcoconnect posted pictures of storm damage on Sunday, at the height of people's frustration. Are you kidding me? I don't need to see photos from you--let the photojournalists cover that aspect. I certainly don't want to know that your people are collecting those in the field while I'm sitting in the dark and heat. Wait till after you've got everyone restored. Or never post them, ever. Just make your customers' priorities #1--tell me when my power is coming back.
6. Stop making excuses: I don't want to hear that you didn't have time to prepare for the weather. It's weather, for crying out loud. You can't prepare for it. Just say, "We are doing the best we can--we apologize for the inconvenience and we are going to set this right as soon as we can." Point people back to the app or your website to explain how you are setting those priorities.
7. Run your social media better: The Tweet stream was terrible--they just kept repeating the same information. @WTOP did an amazing job--every single user who tweeted to WTOP was retweeted back to the following audience. @pepcoconnect should have done a better job of explaining Pepco's plans and priorities.
They also should have been directing people to their YouTube channel where videos are waiting to explain to people about how they set infrastructure priority, how they put power back on line, what happens to transformers when they blow, etc. These videos should be produced when they are not dealing with an emergency crisis.
What to do next time, Pepco:
When people have information, they feel less powerless (pun intended). Here's a short list for Pepco:
1. Prepare articles, videos and short how-tos for people between now and the next storm
2. Create a better app that directs people to this information
3. Develop better educational programs so you don't have to waste people's time explaining certain basics during the height of a crisis
4. Accept responsibility and don't make excuses
5. Communicate with your audience as much as possible with critical information
How about you? What are your thought on this latest Pepco fiasco? What should they do differently next time (Heaven forbid!)?