Help yourself to help your customers

The other night our power went out around 9:30. There wasn’t a storm or anything. It was just raining. Everything went out, came back on a second later, and went out again.

Instead of calling ComEd (our local power company), I got on my iPhone and went to their website. It was there I discovered they have a SMS-based system for reporting outages. You simply text the word “OUT” to them and they immediately respond. In my case, it told me they were aware of the problem and 800 customers were also out. I received another text later estimating the problem to be fixed by 11:30pm.

I rarely have anything good to say about ComEd, but I’ll be talking this up to friends and family.

This simple feature, while very useful for customers, probably benefits ComEd more. Not only do they get to reduce the costs associated with staffing phone lines 24/7. They now have a secondary dispatching system that notifies them when and where the power is out.

I especially hate it when the power goes out at night. It’s not like you can go outside and find something else to do. I’m reasonable, I know the power goes out from time to time. I just need to know 1) it’s not the apocalypse and 2) someone is on it. This system does that.

Not every user-friendly thing your product or service does has to come from an altruistic place. Sometimes you can create more value for your organization and still make your customers happy.