No one enjoys being left in the dark — literally or figuratively. Service outages may be inconvenient, for example, but a lack of communication about that outage can frustrate more customers than the darkness itself. And the same holds true for everything from new billing options and construction policy updates to news about your company and the industry as a whole. Your customers expect you to communicate with them.
In order to accomplish this, an electric utility or telecommunications company must approach communications the same way it does building out plant. It must commit resources — staff and money — to developing a strategic work plan and being proactive in carrying out those plans.
This can be a challenge for some service providers. To begin with, there has traditionally been little perceived value — and therefore little budget — assigned to communicating. Getting beyond this mentality and finding internal buy-in can be the largest and most challenging hurdle.
Once a utility commits to ramping up its communications efforts, more questions are raised. “What do my customers want to know?” “What do I need them to know?” “With so many ways of communicating with people today, how do I reach them with these messages?”
Here are three principles to consider when looking to launch or expand a communications program:
- Start where you are. Building an efficient communications program takes time. Assess where you are, set some reasonable goals and be patient as you work toward those goals. Some utilities have entire communications departments with multiple employees, while others rely on a customer service representative or other staff member to juggle communications along with their many other responsibilities. It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you do.
- Engage with your audience where they are. We live in the age of fractured media. No longer can you rely on two or three sources to spread your message completely, because your customers are no longer tied strictly to those sources. Traditional media such as newspaper, radio and television are still relevant, of course, but your customers are also staying connected through a variety of social media channels, mobile technology and sharing apps. You need a plan to be there, too.
- Tell your story. Once there, what will you communicate? In short, everything. Your communications program should encompass elements such as the programs/services you offer, how to do business with you (signing up for new service, making payments, reporting an outage, etc.), regulatory issues impacting rates and reliability, system upgrades and more.
With so much activity taking place in the electric and telecommunications industries, the need to communicate may never have been greater. This is especially true in our information-based society where your customers expect you to keep them out of the dark.