Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Failure to Communicate

Dear National Grid,

Let me begin this letter by stating many customers are suffering far worse than we did during this recent storm and power outage.  Many customers are still without power.  I thank you for restoring our power in 3 days.  This is not another call to have you criminally investigated for negligence, you've had enough of those come your way... this is about your communication policies.

While trying to communicate with you this past week, I recalled the scene from the movie Cool Hand Luke.   The question customers commonly asked was "when are you coming to our street?"  Your response was consistent - a link to your website which shows an Estimated Time to Restore, or ETR.  For my neighborhood during this recent outage, we had an ETR of 11:30pm on 11/3.  Considering the power went out on 10/30, this was an ETR of 4 days.  Ouch.

It's clear you're working hard to restore everyone's power.  I've followed your @NationalGridUS tweets and have read the comments on your Facebook page.  Kudos for using these platforms to communicate with your customers.  This is a great idea and yet the majority of people have nothing but complaints for you.  Why?  Here's my take - we keep getting the same response from you:   "the ETR for your location is..."

The estimates lead to a lot of questions... for those of us without generators, should we consider getting a hotel room or moving in with friends?  How long should we plan for?  There must be a better way to communicate with your customers.  I believe with more information and transparency many customer complaints would never come about...

Here's a sampling of your Twitter correspondence with me:
11/1:  National Grid US:  @ralphfyoung The ETR for #Franklin #MA is 11/3 at 11:45pm.

If you're going to be on Twitter, BE ON Twitter!  USE it, arm your technicians with mobile devices that report EXACTLY where they are!  I would have been much happier with tweets like this :

11/1:  National Grid US: We have 1 truck in #Franklin, doing #surveys only.
11/2:  National Grid US: We have 4 trucks in #Franklin, currently #restoring locations at Oak St., Lincoln St, and Miller St..  Next stop is ______ .

You could have #tags for each town and other tags set up for the type of work.  Your drivers could handle it. Heck, give them iPhones so they don't have to type.  Just a few words to Siri and everyone is happy.  Maybe the "next stop" is too much to ask but a little more detail would go a long way.

Some states have outfitted their snow plows with GPS devices with the ability to relay a variety of information back to the command center, including which streets have been plowed, what time they were plowed, is there salt in the spreader, etc.  Could you outfit your National Grid trucks with GPS devices?

Consider a plot map on a website showing where all the National Grid trucks are at any time.  This would go a long way towards easing people's complaints.  Everyone would recognize quickly the size of the job and the obstacles you are facing if they could just see you at work.

Anyhow, that's how I see it.  We had our power restored on Tuesday, 11/1 at 2pm.  Around 9 that evening we lost power again.  In frustration, I sent out a flurry of tweets to @NationalGridUS basically asking "what the heck just happened?" (I wasn't that polite)... Power was restored after I feel asleep that night and the following morning you sent me a tweet:

11/2 :  National Grid US:  @ralphfyoung The ETR for Franklin is 11/3 at 11:45pm. Crews working on restoration.

Thanks for the message.