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Boost Safety, Reliability, and Engagement Through Effective Customer Communications


Power outages, wildfires, rooftop solar systems, and demand response programs create a need for utilities to communicate with customers quickly and clearly.

To achieve this goal, utility customers can benefit from advanced data analytics, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), and message automation, all of which  can streamline communications and provide important information to customers, whether it’s about outages, their solar panel output, or their energy use.

Customers often experience the most pressing need for accurate and timely communication during power outages. They’re eager to know what caused their power to stop flowing and when their lights, furnaces, and refrigerators will start working again.

In fact, customers prefer proactive communication about power outages. This helps customers decide whether and when they should turn on backup power sources such as batteries and generators, or whether to cool the contents of their refrigerators – including potentially lifesaving medicines – with ice chests.

Power outage communications has become even more important as the number of storms and wildfires in the U.S. has increased over the last decade. Between 2011 and 2021, utility customers experienced 78% more weather-related power outages annually than they did between 2000 and 2010, according to Climate Central.

Utilizing omnichannel communication systems can help ensure customers stay in the know and also help utilities respond to the many outage-related calls and emails from customers.

When Hurricane Florence hit in September 2018, wreaking damage in the Carolinas, Duke Energy sent customers over 7 million messages enabled by Message Broadcast.

“Duke communicated outage updates through text, email, voice, chat, and digital channels,” said Bill Joiner, chief strategy officer at Message Broadcast. “Our omnichannel communications approach ensured that Duke customers received critical power outage updates keeping them safe throughout the restoration and recovery process.”

With Message Broadcast’s communications platform, utilities can create and send personalized emergency messages through its Enterprise Omnichannel Notification System (EONS). The platform can increase the speed of communication by over 80% and help utilities keep customers informed and safe during emergencies.

Communicating with field workers is also critical during outages and other emergencies. Message Broadcast provides updates about power outages and severe weather advisories so the news can reach field workers quickly.

Wildfire Communications

Along with power outages, wildfires pose a challenge for utilities and their customers. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), in the summer of 2023, millions of Americans from Hawaii to Maine felt the devastating effects of wildfires.

“As the climate warms, such drought conditions will become more common, leading to increased wildfire risk in many parts of the United States,” said the DOE.

Southern California Edison (SCE), a utility in fire-prone Southern California, is well aware of wildfire challenges and reached out to Message Broadcast for help.

SCE’s customer communications system lacked the ability to communicate efficiently with customers during times of crisis. It collected customer data manually from different data sources, which created delays in reporting that made it difficult for the utility to take action.

SCE switched to Message Broadcast and now uses EONS to communicate about its wildfire mitigation efforts. EONS gathers, aggregates, and standardizes large amounts of data from different sources into a single dataset. With this capability, Message Broadcast helps SCE deploy more communications much faster than the utility could with its manual system. This helps ensure the safety of customers during wildfire season.

Message Broadcast hasn’t only helped SCE. During a severe weather event, Message Broadcast enabled another utility to alert its field workers via SMS and email, ensuring their safety and coordinating a timely response to maintain essential services, said Joiner.

Demand Response Programs

Not only do utilities have to grapple with communicating to customers about crises, they also need to notify customers of ways to avert crises through programs such as demand response. In demand response programs, utilities tell customers when they should cut back their energy usage to help ensure the grid is stable – often during heat waves or cold snaps.

Demand response programs are an important tool for utilities because they invite consumers to play a role in the operation of the electric grid by reducing or shifting their electricity usage during peak demand periods or energy crises.

“The electric power industry considers demand response programs as an increasingly valuable resource option whose capabilities and potential impacts are expanded by grid modernization efforts,” said the DOE. Sensors can identify peak load problems and divert or cut back power in given areas, reducing the risk of overload and power failures.

Such programs are growing. Pacific Gas & Electric has one of the largest demand response programs in the country with 100,000 customers enrolled as of September 2023.

“Message Broadcast assists utilities in communicating demand response and energy conservation programs by leveraging our omnichannel communication platform to deliver targeted, timely messages to customers and encouraging them to reduce energy usage during peak periods,” said Joiner.

Data Analytics and AMI

Not only is it important for customers to be notified of the state of their utility’s power system, but customers are also interested in the status of their own power systems or energy use. Understanding solar panel production is one example.

“Leveraging advanced data analytics and communication technologies, Message Broadcast can provide tailored information to each customer,” Joiner said. This could include real-time updates about the amount of energy generated by their solar panels, information about how much energy they are saving or exporting to the grid, and financial data about what they may have earned through their solar systems.

“By doing so, utilities can foster a more engaged and informed customer base, encouraging the adoption and efficient use of renewable energy systems,” Joiner said.

Advanced data integration also allows utilities to analyze customer behavior, preferences, and past interactions, which allows utilities to provide proactive support during harsh weather. With data analytics, utilities can spot vulnerabilities and resolve issues before they escalate.

Like data analytics, AMI benefits utilities and their customers. AMI, available from Message Broadcast, is a system of smart meters, communications networks, and data management systems that allow for two-way communication between utilities and customers.

These systems offer important advantages that were not possible or which had to be performed manually. AMI provides customers with the ability to automatically and remotely measure electricity usage, connect and disconnect their service, identify tampering, isolate outages, and keep track of voltage.

“Combined with customer technologies, such as in-home displays and programmable communicating thermostats, AMI also enables utilities to offer new time-based rate programs and incentives that encourage customers to reduce peak demand and manage energy consumption and costs,” said the DOE.

Whether utilities are responding to outages and wildfires, deploying demand response programs, or tracking their customers’ energy usage and solar production, communicating is critical.

Automated Messaging Systems

For example, with Message Broadcast's communication platform, utility JEA can automate messaging to hundreds of thousands of customers about a wide range of issues, including boil water advisories, construction notices, outage alerts, and disconnect warnings.

In doing this, Message Broadcast respects customers’ preferences. Its customer engagement platform turns automated interactions into conversational preference centers. The company applies personalized and dynamic message flows to outbound and inbound communications. These flows collect, set, update, and verify customer attributes, including missing account information and channel preferences.

“This automation has enabled JEA to ensure timely, informative, and brand-consistent communication across phone calls, text messages and emails while also empowering internal teams with digital tools for efficient message creation and deployment, fostering better customer service and engagement,” Joiner said.

In the age of wildfires, outages, energy emergencies, and customer solar deployment, utility customers are taking a more active role in their energy usage. They want to be well informed and to help reduce the potential for emergencies on the grid. Message Broadcast’s demand response programs, data analytics, AMI, and automated messaging allow utilities to increase communication speed and accuracy while lowering utility costs and boosting safety and reliability,

For more information about Message Broadcast, visit the company’s website.

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