Award-winning strategies for outage communications

By Russ Henderson, Senior Research Manager –

We were thrilled this week to host a free webinar on award-winning outage communications strategies featuring an all-star panel of past winners of Chartwell’s Best Practices in Outage Communications Awards: Tomaso Giannelli of Southern California Edison, Amanda Townsend of Oncor and Dan Seguin of Hydro Ottawa.

Chartwell will soon announce its 2021 award winners, who will present at PowerUp: Chartwell’s Outage Conference which will be held virtually June 8-9.

Wildfires, power crisis, rolling blackouts, pandemic  – these terms weren’t so prevalent in our everyday vocabulary just a few years ago. Today, we hear them in the global and national news pretty frequently. In the past, utilities relied on media companies to help them tell their story and protect their brand, but now the utilities themselves own the printing presses. Utilities have to control the narrative themselves.

Meanwhile, customer expectations about even everyday outages are high. You don’t have to have a crisis to have a crisis of public opinion. If a utility does badly at communicating with customers about outages (and that can be either business customers or residential customers), its CSAT can drop and that can have a number of consequences, including not getting a rate case approved and losing out on much-needed revenue.

During the webinar, we asked each panelist: What would be your advice for someone new
to outage communications?

Here were their responses:

Tomaso Giannelli, SCE: “The first thing I’d like to say is that you’re in the right spot. The best thing I ever did was going to Chartwell. First off, if you have challenges, I can guarantee you that other utilities have the same challenges and this is really a place to solve those. The second thing I would say is, ‘Be nimble. Expect the unexpected.’ When we build our (messaging system) with Message Broadcast we were able to expect the unexpected. While it was designed for public safety power shutoff, we built into it the ability to send out customized messaging for any situation.

As a result, throughout 2020 SCE was able to use the solution as it faced wildfires, COVID and rotating outages.

“Third, I would say that the most important relationship you have is not necessarily with your customers. I know that’s controversial but that most important relationship is with your folks in transmission and distribution because you need to get their buy-in and support. When you face a hurdle, you need to make sure it’s a two-way street because, without that, outage communications will definitely fail.”

Amanda Townsend, Oncor: “If you want to be successful, you need to be asking how you can make your experience better. Ask that of the customer, but ask that of your internal partners, as well. You’d be amazed at what a distribution operator or a technician can tell you would make their job easier that would help them provide you with a better ETR or other information you could give to a customer.”

Dan Seguin, Hydro Ottawa: “The key is to communicate what success can look like and maintain that laser focus on being customer-driven.”

The panel went on the explore how to set goals and organize internally for success. You can view a recording of the webinar for yourself here.