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Lack of Social Media Keeps Customers in the Dark

August 31st, 2011

The aftermath of Hurricane Irene here in New Jersey has left hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses without power. As I write this today, my home is still without power having been disrupted Saturday evening. Our office was also impacted, leaving us without power for most of Monday.

Aside from the loss of business, personal inconveniences, spoilage of refrigerated and frozen food, and the physical damage from flooding and fallen trees, most of my friends, neighbors and local merchants are dealing just fine. But the most annoying part of the power service disruption is the lack of communication from our local service provider JCP&L.

Apart from an outage map that indicates which areas are currently impacted; JCP&L has no Irene-specific bulletin on their Web site to communicate what is being done, nor a timeline to pinpoint when service will be restored.  The lack of communication is only made worse by JCP&L’s use of traditional media – broadcast and print – to disseminate updates.  Those who are affected don’t have access to television, so what’s the point?

John Sykes, a Web developer based in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, a town hit hard by the storm decided to create DoIHavePower.com, a site that aggregates information from power authorities as well as news and Twitter feeds.

Today’s article in the Asbury Park Press, “JCP&L to customers: We feel your pain,” sheds light on the number of service calls received – 255,000 to be exact from 660,000 customers that are affected in northern and central New Jersey. To their credit, I know they are overwhelmed by the magnitude of this storm and have all available personnel fixing the “more than 200 poles and almost 40 miles of wire” that need to be replaced before power can be restored. But JCP&L can do a better job informing the public.

For starters, they need to integrate the various channels of communication such as social media, email, SMS notifications and make better use of their Web site.  I would guestimate that almost every JCP&L customer has a mobile phone; this should be the primary means of communicating updates and receiving feedback.

What if JCP&L specifically used Twitter?  Tens of thousands of service calls would likely be eliminated as customers would have a better opportunity to interface with customer care, and not flood (pun intended) their call center.  I tried finding them on Twitter today but there were only tweets about JCP&L – not from them.  Conversely, New Jersey’s largest utility PSE&G has a Twitter profile and they are at least updating it with information related to service restoration.

Beyond the coverage map, JCP&L should have launched a specific page on their Web site or even a blog with videos and photos of the crews working diligently to restore power. This would at least offer more insight of the enormity of the storm and make the power company less monolithic and more human.

Ironically, this morning I received an email notification from my town indicating JCP&L was offering free ice and water.  This is a very nice gesture on JCP&L’s part however it would have been better received if the email came directly from them. They missed an opportunity to make a connection.

Social media, blogs, email and SMS offer new opportunities to engage with customers. Those that do will be in the best position to cultivate and build deeper relationships.

Hopefully JCP&L will take a closer look at how they communicate embrace these channels.

Domenick Cilea

Domenick founded Springboard in 1995. When he is not working on marketing, PR, branding or content strategy, Domenick can be found in a gym, on the road or pool training to survive his next triathlon.

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