Note to all NJ utility companies ahead of winter storms
Late November gave a chilly reminder to everyone living in the Great Garden State. Cold and wintery weather is here and will make multiple appearances throughout the season.
This time of year can be particularly dangerous for all our utility workers. When you're dealing with freezing cold temperatures in dark and windy conditions, it's something that should be recognized.
So before we get into the issues that tend to come up with New Jersey's utility companies, it's important to recognize the people on the ground. Whether it's water, sewer, gas, or electric, you all deserve praise.
Thank you for getting out there and fixing the issues that come up as a result of winter weather. Hopefully, this season will be kind to you.
With that said, there are problems that tend to pop up with the utility companies themselves whenever outages strike. Yes, issues can arise for other utilities. But more often than not, power tends to be the biggest issue.
Don't be unrealistic
If the electricity goes out, please don't tell us something we want to hear. For example, don't say power will be back in 30 minutes only for it to take much longer than that.
And if that changes, don't keep pushing it back every few minutes. An outage that was originally estimated to last 30 minutes shouldn't take 24 hours to come back on.
As much as we don't want to hear it, a "To Be Determined" estimate would be much better. At least it's honest and doesn't give false hope until the crews have a better idea of the situation.
Don't say crews are arriving when they're not
Here's another one that some utility companies might tell us that isn't exactly accurate. When customer service or text messages say a crew is on its way or is on-site when they really aren't.
Or, flip-flop on where the crews are or whether they actually ever arrived in the first place. Yes, crews can be detoured, but as customers, we deserve to know what's what.
And don't tell us that crews are actually on-site when customers living in the affected area can clearly see they're not. For example, when a pole comes down in a neighborhood that's clearly visible by homeowners, but no crews are there.
Again, it goes back to false hope. As much as we may not want to hear the truth, it's best to share what we know in the moment.
Don't make up a cause
If the cause of the outage is unknown, don't make up a reason. Wait for crews to assess the situation properly.
For example, if a pole comes crashing down due to rot, don't tell customers living right at the pole site that a car hit it. Yes, this actually happened with one of New Jersey's utility companies.
And if customers who live right there are telling you what you're saying is obviously not true, don't continue to argue with them. If the cause is unknown, then it's unknown.
It's OK to be delayed
For the utility workers on the ground, you absolutely should work at a safe pace. And if that means taking your time to properly assess a dangerous situation, then do it.
As long as that urgency is there, the issue will eventually be resolved. Especially if it's a big storm and conditions are too dangerous to be working in the elements.
Utility workers on the ground are not the reason for outages, and customers need to understand you may need to address issues at other parts of the grid first.
Customer service - BE HONEST
Whenever customer service representatives give false information, it makes the actual workers on the ground look bad. This is especially true when weather conditions are too dangerous to work in, as mentioned above.
And if that's the case, please tell or text customers reaching out just that. Don't say a crew will be there in an hour when in actuality, they can't arrive until the next day for their safety.
Especially if it's freezing cold with the heat out. Extremely cold and windy conditions also create dangers for utility workers, which is why you may not see them out in their buckets during those times.
Same as the earlier example, this one is also based on an actual incident that occurred one winter in New Jersey. If customers can get to a safer place with heat, then they should do so.
People who need the heat for health reasons should especially go elsewhere until power is restored.
Let's do better than last year
Any mistakes that were made in the past are in the past. Let's learn from that and get better with our customer service.
Yes, sometimes all goes well, and utility companies deserve credit for those moments. As long as customer service strives to be straightforward with us, with the text updates being just as accurate, then there's no reason for us to doubt what we're being told.
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The above post reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 Sunday morning host Mike Brant. Any opinions expressed are his own.