We recently heard a story from a utility that’s worth sharing: The utility had a standing discount on surge protectors purchased through their office. It wasn’t the most popular program, but they kept a few units on hand.
One day, the employee in charge of the program gets more calls requesting a surge protector in a few hours than he has in a few years. He had no supplies left and was having to apologize to everyone.
One customer asked how they could run out of supplies on the first day of their big surge protector promotion. Big promotion? The employee had no idea what the customer was talking about. Neither did the CEO or anyone else.
The next customer, which also had to be turned down, solved the mystery. There was a full-page ad proudly promoting surge protectors in their monthly magazine that had hit mailboxes earlier that day. The communications department had scheduled the promotion for the magazine and had it on social media as well. The only problem was they’d never told anyone else about it.
We wanted to share this story because it’s not as unusual as you may think. In our experience there is often a single utility employee who has been told to handle every aspect of communications, sometimes in addition to other roles. They often operate in a silo.
Below are some guidelines that can help you avoid problems caused by a disconnect between your communications department and the rest of the operation.
Communication is a team effort. The communications professional in your organization needs to lead, but every employee is a representative of your utility. All employees need to be informed of your goals, promotions and news — before your customers are told. One of the worst things your employees can say to someone in the community is “I didn’t know about that. They never tell us anything around there.”
Help with proofing. If your communications team is a roster of one, they could use help with proofing newsletters, bill inserts and even social media posts. Do you have one or two employees who would like to get involved in your messaging? Create a proofing team that can help put more eyes on the text and reduce any errors. This has the added benefit of bringing more people into the loop, which increases accountability and decreases the chance of other departments being left in the dark.
Discuss direction and results. All communication should be intentional, and as the leadership of your utility you need to be directly involved in setting those communications goals. Yearly strategy meetings and monthly reports on progress can be key in making sure the communications staff is reaching its goals. If you run promotions, find out how successful they are. If you have a social media program, get reports on how engaged your customers are in those channels.
Silos in the workplace are never good, and in an electric utility or telecommunications company they can be even worse. Utilities often make do with less staff than other companies because they want their members and customers to fund as little overhead as possible. A multiperson communications team may not be a fit for your utility — but making sure your single communications employee has the support they need to do their job well is certainly a worthwhile investment.