In a recent Facebook Live event, Paula Gold-Williams, President and CEO of Texas public power utility CPS Energy, and other CPS Energy officials detailed how the utility is helping customers respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as how it has responded to the pandemic in terms of internal operations.
Along with Gold-Williams, Maria Garcia, Vice-President of Supply Chain at CPS Energy, CPS Energy Board of Trustee Janie Gonzalez and Melissa Sorola, Interim Senior Director of Corporate Communications, Marketing & Smart City Outreach, at the utility, participated in the March 26 Facebook Live event.
During the event, Gold-Williams noted that in the wake of the pandemic, CPS Energy has suspended customer disconnects indefinitely. “That’s not unusual,” she noted. “We typically suspend disconnects over the hottest part of the summer and around the Christmas holidays,” so CPS Energy already had a process and protocol in place. (Several other public power utilities have also suspended disconnects with COVID-19).
“We absolutely believe this is the thing that we need to do right now,” Gold-Williams said. The utility understands that given the current financial uncertainty tied to the pandemic, the last thing customers need is to feel stressed about disconnects.
Gold-Williams urged CPS Energy customers to reach out to the utility in order to remove late fees from bills and set up a payment plan.
“We’re in this with you together and we realize this is not going to happen and get fixed overnight,” she said.
During the Facebook Live event, CPS Energy officials provided the utility’s customer service phone number.
Gold-Williams also noted that CPS Energy offers a variety of programs that can help customers, such as the utility’s affordability discount and thermostat programs.
“CPS Energy has a variety of money-saving and general assistance programs designed to help all customers who have informed us of a hardship,” the utility noted in a March 11 news release that provided an update on COVID-19. The news release provided details on the programs offered by the utility.
At a later point, Gold-Williams said that “We feel like we’re the National Guard. We feel like we’re the military. We can’t put down our tools and shut our doors for convenience. We’ve got to find a way to make it happen and at the same time,” look for ways to help customers.
How CPS Energy is addressing pandemic internally
Gold-Williams also addressed how CPS Energy is addressing the pandemic from an operational standpoint.
“Even in our breakrooms, in our lunchrooms, we are continuing to help each other remember that being careful in our social distancing is really important,” she said.
“We also are implementing additional screening. We screen ourselves. We ask, how do we feel, are we carrying a temperature, do we see a cough? We encourage people to stay home because we are wanting to do whatever we can to flatten the curve.”
At the same time, CPS Energy management continues to ask employees for suggestions on “how can we do better?”
As of March 26, the utility had directed 1,200 of its 3,000 employees to work remotely. CPS Energy’s senior management and office team members have not been working remotely.
CPS Energy COVID-19 updates
In a March 31 email to Public Power Daily, Sorola noted that CPS Energy has been actively communicating COVID-19 updates “to our community through traditional media relations, updates on our website and newsroom, paid ads and social media.”
She said that this was the first COVID related Facebook Live event CPS Energy has hosted. “We do plan on hosting more to continue to share timely information with our customers,” Sorola said.
Facebook Live event’s audience engagement
With respect to the March 26 Facebook Live event, Sorola provided the following statistics in terms of audience engagement:
Stats as of Friday, March 27, 2020
- 2.6k views/# of people who clicked on the video
- 4,340 had seen the post in their feeds
Stats as of Tuesday, March 31, 2020
- 5.1k views
- 5.6k have seen the post in their feeds
How CPS Energy is leveraging other social media tools
In the email, Sorola also addressed the question of how CPS Energy is utilizing other social media tools to communicate with the public about COVID-19.
She pointed out that the utility’s social media work is part of its overall communications efforts to reach customers.
“San Antonio is a supportive community and we all have the focus of being in this together. We have an active social media presence and utilize Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram to share updates with our community. We also utilize NextDoor. We’ve also been active in assisting customers on Facebook and Twitter when they have questions,” Sorola said.
In addition, CPS Energy has created a webpage on its customer facing website with COVID-19 information and resources (cpsenergy.com/covid-19updates).
This webpage also includes a link to CPS Energy’s YouTube COVID-19 playlist that includes video messages the utility has shared with the community. It includes messages from Gold-Williams and members of the utility’s team in the field. These videos have all also been shared on social media.
“We’re also supporting our Mayor, City Council, County Judge and community partners by tagging them in our posts and sharing their information. We’re all working together to get the word out about our respective updates to keep our community informed and safe,” Sorola said.