Earlier this week an 18-wheeler decided to take out a few light poles in my neighborhood. Unfortunately for me, the power lines on those poles were attached to my house.
The funny thing about electricity and the companies that provide it, we seldom think about it other than once a month when we pay the bill. Usually that isn’t a pleasant thought as we wonder “how the heck we used so much” or get upset at how much we’re being charged to keep the lights on.
And that makes it hard on electricity brands or any utility brand for that matter. Think about it for a second. Electricity, gas, water, telephony and Internet service – they’re all mission critical apps. We don’t much think about them until they fail. And then when they do fail, we go from upset to ballistic in short order. Why? Because we have become so reliant on them. So if you’re a utility brand like those above, you have to treat every outage as a tragic event that requires maximum response lest you allow that customer anger to manifest. But what can you do? How should you respond during these times of failure?
First - respond in a way that clearly communicates that your company is “on it” and doing everything you can to solve the problem quickly. As you can see above, Entergy didn’t just send out one or two trucks. They sent 10 trucks. I wish I had my Flip with me so you could have seen these guys in action. It was like a ballet in the sky. For 5 hours they bobbed and weaved while they removed two broken poles and reinstalled the new ones. It was quite impressive and really made my wife and me appreciate how much work is involved in fixing a downed pole, much less multiple ones. A lesson we’re sure to remember during any future storms, hurricanes, etc.
Second, communicate with your customer. Our local electrical company, Entergy, had a crackerjack supervisor, Ronnie Durant on site. Ronnie directed his teams, handled interface with government agencies and most importantly, fielded customer service inquiries on site – like those from my wife and me.
In my case, this was supremely important. You see, while Entergy would restore the downed power lines, we were responsible for getting an electrician out to our house to reattach the power (physically) to our home at our cost. Put yourself in this situation and think about how you’d feel being told you had to arrange and pay for a reconnect because their power line was ripped off your house? Needless to say, the thought of having to get a private company out on short notice sent chills through our spine and as my wife is a realtor that works from home, every minute the electric was off was “downtime” for her. Additionally I was leaving town the next day and couldn’t possibly do so if this situation was fixed before I left. Needless to say, tensions were high in the Martin household.
But Ronnie handled it all superbly. He calmly explained the whole process, why the process was like that, exactly what steps we needed to take, what kind of timeline we were working under and then repeatedly checked in with us on how we were coming along with getting someone out to the house. He also provided timeline updates from his crews as they day wet on. This was important because our work had to be completed before Ronnie and Entergy could hook up power to our house. If we weren’t ready when they were, we’d have to have a second truck roll to restore power.
Even the linemen communicated. At one point, our 6 year old was fascinated with all the commotion and bucket trucks. Of course, like most 6 year olds, he was asking lots of questions and when he’d ask one within earshot of a lineman, they took the time to explain in far greater detail than I could what was happening, etc. He loved it.
By the end of the day, 5pm, a mere 6.5 hours after the initial failure, Entergy had restored power to my house and done so in a way that didn’t leave me upset but instead actually made it interesting.
My only remorse, not having that Flip camera… the resulting ballet in the sky video would have been great! The perfect YouTube video.
Do you have a great example of a company recovering from failure? Suggestions on what companies should do to recover? Let me know via the comments.
And be sure to stop by tomorrow when I’ll share another example of a company recovering from customer service failure – only this time, we’ll focus on using Twitter and Social Media as recovery tools.