The Knoxville Utilities Board is preparing to test an Enhanced Customer Communications program set to launch next year.
Dawn Mosteit, KUB's vice president of customer service, discussed the new plans at a board meeting on June 21.
The plans were already in the works before the historic storm power outages in June 2011, Mosteit said, but the storm made it clear that the process needed to be accelerated.
Mosteit said KUB's call center took in more calls to report outages on June 21 than it usually does in an entire month. 127,000 customers were without power at the peak of the outage. It took about a week to restore all of the power.
The storms also showed that customers expectations about information are changing. Research shows customers want specific, immediate information and they also want to be able to choose how they want to receive it, Mosteit noted. More and more, customers are turning to smartphones to search for an access that information.
KUB took all of those research findings into consideration for a new Enhanced Customer Communications program. The design includes a customer notification profile, mobile site, a storm page and upgraded maps.
When customers go to KUB's web site, they will be able to log in and determine how they want to be notified and for which events. For example, a customer may prefer to receive an update on a power outage via text message. Another customer may want to receive a phone call about vegetation management work planned near their home.
KUB also will start giving an estimated restoration time when customers call to report a power outage.
The program includes a mobile site, which is not an app, but is designed for smartphones. Customers will be able to view maps, pay bills and report outages on the site.
In the event of a storm that causes significant power outages, KUB will replace its regular home page with a "Storm Response Center" page to provide the latest updated information. Customers who have power will still be able to easily access the regular page, Mosteit said.
The new designs also include new or enhanced maps. The popular outage map will receive an upgrade. In the case of more isolated outages, a customer will be able to report an outage, then see information about the estimated restoration time, number of customers affected, whether a KUB crew is working in the area and what caused the outage.
KUB also plans to launch a map that will show its current construction projects and enhance the vegetation management map.
The storm served as a "real-time focus group," Mosteit said, but KUB is going to conduct focus group research this fall to see what customers think about the changes.
The new program is set to roll out in phases in the first quarter of 2013.