The lines of communication were down, too

N Star's Twitter stream left much be be desired

Last night at 3:00 am my power came back on after 40 hours of no electricity. I could hear the NStar crews out on the streets in the middle of the night, working under makeshift lights as they cut away fallen branches, repaired a transformer and restored the neighborhood’s electricity. 

So these guys (and women) really do work through the night like the relentless PR claims say that they do.  Good to know.  At least someone at the utilities is doing his job.

It’s hard to give anywhere near as much credit to the people who manage NStar’s social media, however. Or its website. Or its phone lines.  It’s one thing to expect customers to go without electricity after a hurricane. But it’s another to assume they should tolerate even a temporary void of accurate information in an age of social media and digital technology.

In Massachusetts, NStar offered a call-in number to report an outage. But every time I got through I found little or no information at all about which towns were out or when they might be back online. A website was even less useful. Updated every four hours it simply said the same thing over and over: recent hurricane conditions had produced numerous outages, crews are working hard, you might expect to go without power “for several days.”

A Twitter stream did demonstrate NStar’s ability to be consistent. Here @NStar_News pushed out tweet after tweet claiming that crews were working hard to restore power. Good to know. But what I really wanted was useful information. A response to my inquiries. A way for customers to share updates with each other. I learned more from other users I found on Twitter by searching my community and keywords such as “outage” and “NStar” than I did from the utility itself.

It seems that in this day and age it would have been awfully easy to put up a map of where crews were working and show where they’d go next.  Easier still to create a way for customers to see where others in their neighborhoods or communities did or didn’t have power so they’d have a sense of whether they were an isolated case or part of a large pocket. Why not equip crews with a simple device that lets them automatically check in where they’re working so that families in a blacked out area at least know if they’re being tended to? And at least get a real person onto YouTube providing hourly updates of where you are and what you’re doing, instead of a five month old video about a “Walk for Children.”

My loss of power was a minor inconvenience compared to those whose homes were flooded or damaged by downed trees.  And I don’t fault utilities for taking days, even longer, to restore power when they often have to go house to house. Like I said, the crews were out at 3:00 am.

But in a day and age when we have the tools, the platforms and the technologies to keep customers updated in real time, when we can even invite those customers to be part of the process, there’s no excuse for leaving customers in the dark when it comes to information.

NStar, if you want, I would be more than glad to offer advice and guidance on how to develop better, more effective social media practices.  Let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 comments
bsaemann
bsaemann

Edward,

You are absolutely right. Utilities and the public sector in general are very slow in adopting new technologies. The works is changing and so are customers expectations. It's a big lose for Nstar that you seem impressed with the actual level of service but came away from the situation with frustration. I hope they take you up on your offer. Do you think anyone over there has the foresight to set up a Goggle Alert on their brand? I would hate for them to miss it.

edwardboches
edwardboches moderator

@bsaemann No I don't. And in reality, not sure I want to work for a utility. Been there done that. They are bogged down in process beyond belief. But if they do call I will charge them a hefty day rate to teach them what to do and how, and they'll be better off for it.