Customers across all segments of our industry are expecting increasingly higher levels of customer service and a wider range of utility offerings, including new ways to pay bills, keep track of their electric and water use, and stay informed about service interruptions. As Public Power Daily has recently reported, now, even small utilities can meet those expectations economically.
Easley Combined Utilities has improved customer service and made power restoration more efficient. Easley, an electric, water and sewer utility in northwestern South Carolina, implemented the National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC) integrated outage management system that quickly alerts utility crews of outages, helps them assess the likely causes and remedies and lets affected customers know how soon power will be restored.
NISC is a member-owned information technology company. By partnering with them Easley Combined Utilities cost-effective, user-friendly platform that “could do everything” including accounting, customer care and billing, and operations support, said Joel Ledbetter, the utility general manager.
Now, said Ledbetter, incoming calls from customers with outages can be received either by utility staff or CallCapture, an interactive voice response system in the NISC suite of software solutions.
Affected customers also can use their smartphones to notify the utility of outages through the SmartHub portal.
Easley Combined Utilities foremen and linemen are notified by text messages as the customer outage reports come in, and the outages are plotted visually on the Outage Management and Mapping System, helping identify outage causes, and optimizing assessments of where to send crews and what equipment and tools they will need.
As crews go about their power restoration tasks, Ledbetter said, they use Android-based tablets to access information, provide status updates and track any new outages that may be occurring.
Ledbetter said that in early March, 2017, a severe thunderstorm with high winds knocked out a couple of circuits and left 1,200 customers without power. Incoming calls from nearly one-tenth of customers typically would have overwhelmed utility staff but CallCapture and SmartHub enabled all outage reports to be received. The resulting texts to utility foremen and linemen helped crews jump into action with a clear understanding of what work needed to be done, and where.
Efficient crews, informed customers
The new approach “has been very well received by our crews,” Ledbetter said. He added that customers appreciate being notified by phone, email or text of when to expect the power back on and can track restoration efforts in real time through an online map.
Enhancements are about to be implemented. The utility is in the process of rolling out smart meters that will be integrated with NISC’s Meter Data Management System. If power to any of these new smart meters is interrupted, the meters will send signals to the Meter Data Management System, Easley Combined Utilities crews will be notified and the outages will be plotted on the Outage Management and Mapping System.
Full integration, vendor support, low cost
The NISC platform is helping to integrate the utility’s data and functions –– accounting, customer care and billing, and operations support –– in a seamless way, said Ledbetter and Andy Sevic, finance manager at Easley Combined Utilities.
For example, customers can use the SmartHub portal to notify the utility of outages and also to access information about their electricity use and pay bills. Easley Combined Utilities can use CallCapture and the Messenger service to notify customers about billing issues or planned electric or water service outages for repair work.
The full Public Power Daily story is available at this link.