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We have an app for that!

On Wednesday afternoon, an iPhone mobile app that would have allowed me to quickly report an outage would been very handy as I stood in the wind and rain with my neighbor, looking at the fallen tree on a distribution power line that had taken out her power.

As it was, a call to our electric utility company was dealt with quickly and efficiently, and a truck was dispatched,  arriving in less than half an hour, which was also impressive, given the flooded roads, pouring rain and other larger outage issues along our lake.

I'll be moderating a webinar on customer-facing mobile applications (or "apps") like these on Wednesday, June 13, at noon EST.

"Mobility: The Next Killer App?" will feature Frank Scumacci, general manager of eChannels for ComEd, and Pam Wheat, retail market operations manager for Oncor, who will discuss their newest mobile apps for customers, including early lessons learned (and lessons learned during development), successes, and customer feedback to date. (You can register for the webcast by clicking its title, above, or here.)

Efficiency is a key component in utility customer-facing mobile apps, the idea being that customers like being able to pay their bills, report an outage, etc., no matter where they are, as quickly and efficiently as possible. And if it's a free app for their go-everywhere iPhone or Android, all the better.

But there are pluses on the utility side of the equation, as well. Here are but a few:

  • Protect and Grow Revenue. The utility can boost customer satisfaction by providing easy access to self-service tools, faster time-to-resolution and proactive tips for saving energy.
  • Streamline Support and Reduce Costs. Apps like these allow the utility to increasingly shift support to lower-cost, self-service channels (and self-service is something many customers have already indicated a preference for, in most instances).
  • Identify Outages. An outage reporting app allows the utility another tool for understanding the scope and scale of outages in order to quickly restore service.
  • Faster time to payment. Providing customers with real-time billing information and convenient payment methods results in more reliable and consistent collections.

When ComEd launched its mobile application for smart phones in early May, it did it in conjunction with another announcement, the launch of its enhanced online outage map. "The new, interactive map allows customers to quickly find detailed information about outages in their communities. And the app makes it easier for customers to conduct business with us by leveraging the convenience of a smart phone," said Terence R. Donnelly, ComEd's executive vice president and chief operations officer, in announcing the two new programs.

ComEd's new mobile application allows customers to:

  • Report an outage and check restoration status.
  • View their account summary and history.
  • Manage payments, including budget billing, automatic payments and one-time payments. The app will also make it easy to manage more than one account at a time: customers can access up to five residential accounts (an ageing parent's, say, or a college daughter's account) through the mobile app.
  • Report a meter reading.
  • Find the closest location at to make an in-person payment, if they so choose to pay that way, rather than via the app itself.

At Oncor, as I wrote in my mid-April column, "Making electricity outage communications consumer-centric," when something goes wrong, customers still turn to Oncor as the trusted advisor for answers, rather than the approximately 90 electricity retailers with the direct connection to the customer.

As it honed its focus on an improved customer experience, Oncor's customer service council turned its eye to outage communication improvement; the voice of the customer; content management, intranet and a mobility initiative; employee education; a brand and communication program; customer interaction training; and setting up a customer experience council.

One area of opportunity that made immediate sense was to improve its outage communication with text notification, an IVR (interactive voice response) redesign, enhanced outage maps, a web and mobile refresh, and more. Oncor Mobile went live at the end of January, and Oncor Text Notification is also live now, being piloted to employees and customers in select areas, with full implementation imminent.

ComEd's Frank Scumacci and Oncor's Pam Wheat will take your questions at the end of their webinar presentations on Wednesday (or as many as we can get to before the end of the hour).

To read more on this topic, see "The next killer app: mobility?"


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