We’ve all gotten good advice on how to control COVID-19 in our personal lives—wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, limit your travel—but what should utilities do? How should you prepare for the effects of coronavirus on your utility contact center, your utility credit and collections policies, and your external communications?
Utilities are now communicating widely about the virus (figure 1). In addition to publishing their corporate press releases, they’re talking about their plans to:
- Maintain customers’ power and water service without disruption or disconnection
- Keep their employees, communities, and customers safe and healthy
- Forgive late payments and nonpayments for a period of time
Your customers want to know what to expect from you if their community gets sick. Your employees want to know what to do to prepare for potential impacts. Google Trends reports that the top five questions related to coronavirus in the past week were:
- How did the coronavirus start?
- What is the coronavirus?
- How many cases of coronavirus in the US?
- How long does coronavirus last?
- How many people have died from coronavirus?
You’re used to helping people prepare for disasters such as hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes. Coronavirus is no different.
You’re used to helping people prepare for disasters such as hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes. And you’ve seen improvements in customer satisfaction when you manage these communications well. Coronavirus is no different. Alleviate your customers’ worries and have at the ready answers to their most critical questions, such as:
- What can I do to control my energy bill if I have to spend more time at home?
- How is my utility making sure that hospitals in the area won’t lose power during an outage?
- How can I afford my bill if I can’t work due to a coronavirus outbreak in my community?
You also need to consider how an outbreak will impact your internal operations.
What effects might a coronavirus infection have on your call center? Your contact center employees need to know how to react to increased absenteeism, changes in call volume, and strains on limited resources. How will your pared-down staff process ramped-up customer requests?
What shake-ups might occur to your credit and collections processes? Credit and collections will get messy if the customers who are most likely to be energy insecure are the most likely to be affected by the virus.
How will you communicate about COVID-19 and your utility’s operations? Customers will want to know that you’re coordinating with local health officials to ensure safe, reliable power.
Every week we’re publishing reports on these topics. Anyone with a utility email address can access them. First, create an E Source account. Then, go to your email preferences and select “COVID-19 (coronavirus)” to receive email notifications when we publish new content.