Last winter, the ‘Beast from the East’ saw tens of thousands of UK residents left without access to water for hours. As the days get colder and the nights lengthen, utilities companies are bracing themselves for another season of disruption.
Severe weather will inevitably cause spikes in incoming call traffic, yet the risk and impact of disruption can be minimised through a carefully planned-out customer service strategy. Today’s customers expect to be immediately connected to accurate information through any channel that they choose, and it is critical that this support is provided in a way that assuages the panic and frustration caused by outages. A well-executed communications strategy is crucial for handling contact centre disruption.
According to Ofwat, “In responding to a major incident, good communications with customers and stakeholders is essential to effective preparation, response and recovery.”1
When planning such a communications strategy, it is essential to consider the contact centre’s capacity to handle spikes. Most customers will only contact their utilities provider when they are dissatisfied, and during extreme weather events this will occur en masse –when spikes arrive, it is critical that they are handled well. When the ‘Beast from the East’ struck, one in three Welsh households contacted their water provider, requesting support2. Following a series of severe storms in 2013, the Department for Energy and Climate Change noted that:
“Some customers experienced ‘forced disconnection’ during the Christmas storms […] because the Network Operator’s telephony capacity was not sufficient.”3
The response time for contact on any channel, along with the quality of each interaction with a customer, are equally important contributors to overall customer satisfaction. However, no matter how pro-active a strategy is, or how many channels a contact centre can handle, if a communications estate doesn’t have the technical capacity to handle spikes in demand, customer frustration is sure to follow.
 Ofwat, ‘Out in the Cold’, p. 24  Consumer Council for Water, ‘Customers’ experiences of water supply interruptions following the freeze-thaw events of March 2018’, June 2018, p.7  Department of Energy and Climate Change, ‘Severe Weather – Christmas 2013: A review of Electricity Distribution Industry Performance’, March 2014, p.13