When it comes to receiving information about a power outage, 78% of North Carolina public power residents want a text message, according to results from the 2023 N.C. Public Power Retail Customer Survey.
That’s no surprise to the Town of Apex’s Electric Utilities department.
Emily Woody, Electric Programs and Technology Coordinator for the Town of Apex, has been listening to the utility’s customers for nearly 20 years.
When those customers reacted positively to the idea of receiving outage texts in the 2019 N.C. Public Power Retail Customer Survey, Emily said she started investigating options. After similar customer survey responses in 2022, she put it in the department’s budget.
Emily and team launched the Town’s texting program, called TextOut, on Oct. 10, 2022, with a welcome text to customers. From Day 1, the response was even better than expected, with a noticeable drop in the number of calls to the Town’s voice response system within a few months.
“We text customers alerting them to power outages, restoration timing, emergency repair work, and other helpful information,” Emily said. “We’re able to let residents know that we know their power is out, which cuts down on inquiries through our Interactive Voice Response System, our customer service reps, our website, and our app.”
A few things that contributed to their success:
To educate customers well before the text program’s launch, they developed a communications campaign with the help of ElectriCities’ Customized City Project program. The campaign included messaging on utility bill inserts, posters, social media, and the Town’s website. They also created a few videos describing the service.
They auto-enrolled every customer, giving customers the ability to opt out. The opt-out rate from launch to December 2023 is only 3.12%. That’s a tremendous success by all accounts.
All the pre-launch communication helped drive that success rate, Kerrin Cox, Communications Coordinator for the Town of Apex, told us. “We wanted residents to get the welcome text message and know it was from the Town and legitimate.”
The team went with the text messaging tool, TextPower, since it would integrate well with DataVoice, the outage management system the utility already had in place.
Emily worked with TextPower to ensure the customer enrollment list constantly renews. “TextPower pulls from our customer information system daily to ensure any new customers are automatically enrolled and customers who move out of the service area are automatically unenrolled,” she said.
A helpful feature is being able to text groups within the electric department. Emily explained, “If I need to get information to the lineworkers or the tree crew, I can text just the lineworkers or just the tree crew.” It works across departments as well and can be billed separately to each department.
In fact, Apex’s Water Resources department is using TextPower with DataVoice to communicate with customers about water issues.
Kerrin said it’s important to remember that the text tool is a recurring charge. “It’s something communities need to budget for in perpetuity.”
For Apex, it’s money well spent. Kerrin said the response to the rollout and to the program has been incredibly positive. “This added feature increases our ability to communicate with residents in a way they prefer and trust, which helps us create a more welcoming community,” she said.