PGE = Portland General Electric
Portland (the one in Oregon) has weathered many storms over the past few years that have brought down century old trees and severed power lines leaving thousands of people and pets in the dark.
This means I've gotten the chance to become quite familiar with PGE's incident response communications and tbh....I'm impressed! Their customer comms far exceeds what I see from many tech companies, truly.
If this ^^^ is your reaction...keep reading and take the quiz at the end to see how your org stacks up 😛
The very first observable event from a customer's viewpoint is that all their lights suddenly go out, fans/HVAC shuts off, etc and an eerie silence settles in.
Not too long after (within minutes) a text arrives
So many amazing things about this -
- PROACTIVE notification and acknowledgement of an issue within a context I care about - my ADDRESS. This alone probably saves PGE sooooo many phone calls and obviates the need for customers to tell them there's an outage.
- Next comms clearly outlined - when there is news to report they'll be back with an estimated restoration time. Love it.
- Also incredible is giving a way in the same communication context to correct an error. It is very simple for someone to text back "NOTOUT" compared to navigating a website/portal/app to report that.
When I get these texts I'm somewhat assuaged because I know that the PGE is aware of the problem and are actively working to resolve it. This frees me up to focus on safely shutting down my pet server, gather flashlights and start the clock for fridge/freezer food safety.
Say a customer hasn't signed up for text alerts...navigating to their website the Outages & Safety section is a permanent part of their main menu bar and provides a plethora of ways to report outages.
Look at the order of reporting options...notice anything? I noticed they're listed in order of ease for customer/efficiency for PGE. Reporting through the app is trivial followed by filing on their website - both of these allow PGE to quickly get reports at scale. The final option is report by phone which could tie up humans for the response, hence showing it last!
Hark, A Map!
Say the text notification didn't quench your thirst for outage information....
PGE's Outage Map is here for you, on-demand, showing (afaict) PGE's current understanding of customer impact.
Why do I love this? Knowing if an outage is widespread across thousands of customers and regions or is isolated to my local neighborhood helps calibrate customer expectations for power restoration.
Obviously if the entire city of PDX is experiencing outages it'd be absurd to expect a quick resolution and vice versa.
Behold, what a gloriously information rich map ^^^
- Location aware visualization - this is a view that shows the overall system impact. A table view of numbers just wouldn't be able to communicate that as effectively
- Key information about data freshness - when it was last updated and the refresh rate.
- Actual number of customers affected. Less useful for me but increases my confidence that PGE has insight into their system since they've got a real live number there.
- Ability to search and pinpoint your area based on phone number - not something arcane like account ID that no one has committed to memory
Basically having this map let's people keep up to date on the resolution progress (or lack thereof) without having to bug and tie up PGE employees. Nervous nellies can check and refresh to their heart's content.
The App Worth Installing
I am loathe to install an app on my phone these days but the PGE app has earned a spot in my must-haves.
The design is simple and conveys information so clearly let's look at their app's outage status page:
Look at that incident resolution timeline! No need to be a line(wo)man to grok it.
- Simple stages of an outage with key moments highlighted for customers - especially "crew dispatched" which means help is on the way!
- Updating with the cause of the outage sheds more light on roughly how long to expect mitigation to take. Its not perfect but its something.
Let There Be Light
Yay! And lights hum back to life, all the machines start making noises, heat flows again and PGE sends a little wrap up text.
Imagine if you'd gotten that text and were still sitting shivering in the dark? You'd probably be po'd until you read the final sentence - and could easily inform PGE of their grave error by replying STILLOUT.
What a master class in customer communication!
Is Your Incident Response Better Than PGE's
- Do you proactively notify customers about impact vs customers notifying you?
- Is it both easy for customers to report impact and efficient for customer support to triage?
- Do you regularly provide status updates and info in a customer-friendly way? (ex: unless your customers are devs, no need to go into detail about a database lockup)
- While an incident is occurring are you able to determine how many customers are affected?
- Can customers subscribe to a feed of outage notifications? Are they tailored to the features/products they use or is it all outages?
Go get your $5 CAT calendar today!!