Why public utility companies need to have media relations staff

It doesn’t matter if you are a public company, private company, non-profit or somewhere in-between; one thing is for certain – your customers are everything to your business. Now, one could say in the case of a public utility, since they have a monopoly, they don’t really need to care about their customers. And you might be right, which is why most public utility companies are still in business despite generally having satisfaction ratings that mirror the airlines and wireless companies.

Yet, what if I told you there was a benefit to having good customer service?

If your customers loved you… because…

  • You answered the phone quickly, and at all hours…
  • You replied to email in less than 24 hours…
  • You offered live chat…
  • You were empathetic, caring and good listeners when it comes to your customer’s lives and challenges
  • You participated in the community…
    • through events…
    • charities…
    • public education…
  • You cut people a break once in a while

So, if you did all this, wouldn’t your customers love you? Wouldn’t your image be sublime? When a public utility staff member says where they work, they’d be greeted with a smile rather than vitriol?

Still think it won’t get you anywhere?

What if I told you that having a strong brand as a public utility would probably go pretty far?

  • Enable you to sell/justify rate hikes (wouldn’t we all pay 1c more per gallon of water if service was superb when we needed it?
  • Enable your locality to pass better legislation because people respect you…
  • Get reelected?
  • Raise taxes?

Now, thanks to the goofs that run Pasco County Florida’s water utility, we’ve learned a good lesson here. Recently a customer of their’s contacted them when they received a bill for more than $3,000 (600,000 gallons of water), despite normally having a water bill of around $100. It seemed odd, so they did what anyone would do – they called the utility company to see what the issue was. But Pasco said the bill was correct and the customer would have to pay it. Pasco suggested to the customer to check their plumbing for leaks. So, the residents paid the county $190 to check the meter and the county declared the meter was fine. The county said they could follow a payment plan.

Gee thanks. Pay $3,000 and by the way, you’ll probably owe us twice that next month, because that was just a partial bill for 19 days.

So the residents contacted Tampa News Channel 8 (a local NBC affiliate). I would have contacted an attorney myself, but hey, that’s me. The good people at News Channel 8 hired a plumber for an independent test. He determined that it was physically impossible for that much water to even pass through the pipes in that amount of time. And if by chance he was wrong, where the hell did all the water go? It surely would have flooded the house or the street and be noticed.

So the news channel contacted the utility and the utility would not comment. They contacted the county, and a county spokesperson, without really know what the hell he was talking about said if a faucet was left on, it’s possible 23 gallons of water an hour could have come out. But the bill shows 1,000+ gallons per hour over certain periods. He later called back and said he meant 23 gallons a minute. Here’s the real rub, the couple wasn’t occupying the property, and the water usage is now back to normal.  Here’s were customer service and media relations come into play. A better response would have been,

“We agree that the bill is unusually high. There are a number of things that could result in a bill like this, so we are working with the customer to investigate whether it was an error in our billing system, our meters, or if in fact, the homeowner has a plumbing issue that needs remediation. We hope that together, we’ll be able to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”

How hard would that have been? How hard would it be to help this customer? Would a little empathy and assistance gone a long way? Yes. Now, many of the 4 million plus residents of the Tampa Bay region think negatively of Pasco County and it’s public utilities commission. That could have been avoided very easily.

Some times people are just jackasses. I’m not why people think its better to be a jackass than helpful and compassionate. One might say it’s easier to be a jackass, but I don’t buy that argument.

Oh, and by the way, all of Tampa Bay’s utility companies are this incompetent. This is not new. Maybe I’ll write about how Tampa Electric cut my power because I hadn’t paid a $700 deposit, even though I provided physical evidence I had.

Sometimes I feel like Rick Moranis in Space Balls… I’m surround by assholes. At least now I know why people want to privatize utilities.

 

Email etiquette tips for the office

Good emailing requires proper etiquette.

Don’t evoke anger with unnecessary emails.

How do you handle the following scenarios?

  1. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you just started a project that you have a question about, what do you do? Do you craft that quick email message and hit send, knowing that it will sit in your co-worker’s inbox while they are out? Or do you wait until they return?
  2. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you have some general information/update about something they are interested, do you forward?
  3. Your co-worker is on vacation, and you have an emergency question, do you send them an email?

At my place of work, these are all scenarios we deal with regularly as members of a large team that relies heavily upon email to communicate. But how we handle each of the above can set the tone for our relationships and respect for one another.

In our example (1) above, if the co-worker is the only one who can answer your question, why bother sending the message if it will just sit in the in-box? Respect your fellow team member, and wait to send the message. Simply draft it up, hit save, and hang on to it. You may also find that while they are out, you were able to answer the question by asking someone else, or figuring it out on your own – thus never needing to send the message in the first place. Learn to be resourceful. By sending someone an email (that isn’t too important), while you know they are out, it’s saying to that person that you really don’t care they are on vacation. It also makes it difficult for your co-worker to check their email while they are out, because they have too many messages and don’t know if there are any that are important.

But what about example (2)… your message isn’t important… so don’t send it. Wait. You can craft a message that says, “I wanted to wait to send this to you until you returned, so as to not bother you while you are out.” A message like that goes a long way to earning the mutual respect of your teammate.

But it’s an emergency! Example (3) may be the rare exception… so ask yourself this, “is it such an emergency that it warrants a phone call or text message?” If that’s the case, then it may be suitable for you to send the message after all… but in reality, if it is a true emergency, it may be time to pick up the phone and call your co-worker who’s drinking Peña Coladas on a sandy beach somewhere. Be careful, as you’re crossing into difficult territory, so phrase your inquiry with caution and apologize for the interruption.

Your co-workers earned this time off, just as you did. If they are out sick, don’t bother them unless they are simply working remote to quarantine themselves… after all, they are sick and need to recover.

But above all, you need to KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. By this, I mean that if you are working with someone who genuinely wants to be included on every last thread and expects to be included, even while they are out – then forget about the above – and honor their wishes…

Happy emailing… or not emailing… chose carefully.

Stop using exclamation points (please)

Exclamation points.

Marketers use a lot of exclamation points.

As the head of marketing for a large organization, I have to edit a lot of copy. Press releases, collateral, web pages, blog posts, print ads, emails and so on… In fact, most marketers have to write copy as part of their role. But most marketers are pretty bad at it. I previously discussed Mark Twain’s view on brevity and why your marketing copy probably stinks.

However, just yesterday, a small “pocket reference guide” made it’s why to my inbox for review. The guide, meant to be a quick reference tool for students to identify who to contact in each department, included descriptions of departments and some FAQs. Fairly benign content, in my opinion. There was about four pages of copy. And it was a quick and easy edit.

I found that the copy was a collection of small paragraphs most likely written by multiple individuals, so it took a little finesse to achieve a unified tone and style throughout the piece. What amazed me the most was that nearly every passage used exclamation points.

Over the course of four pages, I found 23 —- TWENTY THREE —- exclamation points.

Needless to say, by the time I completed my edits, we were down to two – one in the title and one in the initial welcome section.

Then it occurred to me, no one knows how to use an exclamation point. Not marketers for sure, but also few people in academics (save for your English major).

An eloquent marketer should be proficient at devising creative ways for emphasizing importance and excitement without adding a superfluous amount of exclamation points. Exclamation points are overused and make copy sound juvenile or informal.  So unless that is your goal, please do without, except in rare cases where you are genuinely convening something that is extremely exciting.

Oxford Dictionary explains:

“People tend to use a lot of exclamation marks in informal writing such as emails or text messages, but you should avoid using them in formal writing.”

And that pretty much sums it up.

Omega Coaxial – quite possibly the best commercial of 2013

First, watch this commercial:

Now, please consider that Omega never really touts features or benefits… they don’t even play into lifestyle per se. This is simply an emotional piece tied to the brand’s rich legacy of elegance, luxury, accuracy and provenance.

The commercial pairs an amazing sixty seconds of CGI with an excellent score (Smiling by the British composer Harry Gregson-Williams). And this commercial would score a perfect 100 if it qualified “the most perfect mechanical watch movement in the world” with the phrase “quite possibly”. Without this qualifier, technically Omega is making a statement of opinion; which is okay; but not necessarily substantiated by data (internet folks, please correct me if I’m mistaken). I know, I’m being picky. But I don’t score many commercials anywhere near a 99/100.

What’s even more special about this commercial is that the images relate to the brand’s provenance:

  • Sailing (official time piece of America’s Cup)
  • Aston Martin (James Bond wears an Omega)
  • Cycling (official time piece of the Olympics)
  • Moon landing (astronauts landed on the moon wore Omega)

And even from the beginning, you’re able to tell it’s a commercial about a watch, even as you get lost in the magic of the animation.

Well done, Omega.

Cadillac ELR Commercial

I’ve never been a huge Cadillac fan. The brand is heavily dated and the cars were not necessarily advanced, high quality nor fuel efficient. Having said all this, I applaud the outdated brand on attempting to attract younger buyers and more tech-savvy buyers (re: the “Tesla crowd”) with their new ELR. But, even better, is the PHENOMENAL commercial featuring Neal McDonough. The commercial is very well produced, moving quickly to tell a story about hard work and the American dream, and oozes coolness – nothing I would have ever associated with Cadillac… but I suppose that’s why it only works (barely) with the ELR.