The recent snow storm once again caused power disruptions across many towns in eastern Massachusetts, with notable areas concentrated along the South Shore, an area where I live. Although the snow itself was ultimately manageable, the resulting damage it caused to power lines led to several days of no electricity and cold homes for hundreds of thousands. The two companies responsible for restoring power to these areas have made very visible efforts this time in communicating to their customers, providing a toll-free line to speak with a live person to report downed lines to or request further information (if your phone works…), near real-time updates via their corporate websites showing where power outages exist and when affected customers can expect restored power, and regular statements from their senior executives regarding the status of their efforts.
First off, thank you to my power company for this, a tremendous improvement over prior efforts during Hurricane Irene, where the lack of consistent and straightforward, unspun communications left many in the dark, both figuratively and literally. Both companies now provide interactive maps and ETA for restoration of our beloved electricity. In the past, we might have seen messaging a bit off the top-line.
Making an honest effort to inform customers and avoiding much of the detached, self-congratulatory back-slapping that plagued past communications is critical to ensure customer trust. We’re in the same boat — the roads were in rough shape for all of us, weather was terrible and conditions far from ideal. And since I made it to work along those same roads, along with tens of thousands of others, you want empathy and information, not needless spin.
In times like these, how about directly cutting to the point – offering a strictly customer-centric voice to your communications – i.e. when is power expected to be restored, and where will this occur. For executives and companies that face the difficult task of updating customers and shareholders in times of crisis or those faced with conveying bad news, the best policy is often “just the facts,” without softening context and spin. Customers and the general public have a vast capacity to forgive and forget, and expect these challenges. Companies, executives and the professionals helping manage their public relations should also understand that in the era of immediate communications where customers can verify the veracity and accuracy of statements, a “just the facts” policy, whether those facts are either encouraging, or more of the same, makes the most sense.