Easing Anxieties and Meeting Needs: Communications Tips During COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life across our society and economy.

Energy-company communicators are scrambling to keep up with the changes that are roiling our lives each day.

Doubtless some communicators are dismayed when they can’t find their crisis communications plan. Even worse would be a plan document that is outdated, filled with names of employees who retired years ago, and relying on faxes to communicate with the news media.

CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS TIPS

Even if you can’t find your communications plan, or you have an outdated one, you don’t have to panic. At a high level, communicating during a crisis follows a pretty consistent process:

  • During a crisis, people need more information, not less. When communicating with customers, it’s a good first step to put a banner on your website and post to social media platforms that your company is suspending disconnections and late-payment fees during the COVID-19 crisis. But, with so many people fearful of losing their jobs (or even their lives), how many will think to go to your website or your Facebook page? Consider using robocalls and/or text alerts, in addition to other forms of communication, to inform all your customers about the steps you are taking to support them during this difficult time.

  • Show what your company is doing to allay customers’ or employees’ concerns about losing their electric, water or gas service. While many of your employees could be working from home, we know that power plants and water-treatment plants don’t operate themselves. Work with your safety & health leaders to determine what activities the communications team can show customers. You can shoot still photographs or video while practicing safe distancing!

  • Now might be the perfect time to educate your customers about your company’s operations. With kids out of school and many parents working from home, can you think of a better time to put those “Electricity 101” videos online?

  • This might be a good time to innovate. A number of companies provide employees a certain amount of paid leave (sometimes as much as 80 hours every 12 months) to volunteer for a civic or charitable organization. Don’t let the current crisis go to waste! Now could be the right time to create, or improve, your employee volunteerism policy. Our most recent Subscriber Exclusive listed three non-traditional ways that energy companies and their employees could help their community. I’m sure that just scratches the surface. Whether it’s teletutoring school children, delivering meals to those who can’t leave their homes, giving blood or being a remote participant in your community’s COVID-19 information phone bank, there are plenty of civic and charitable needs your employees could help fill while at the same time giving visibility to the good works by your energy company’s employees.

  • Conduct a candid, thorough assessment of your communications team’s performance. Once the COVID-19 crisis ends, for instance, what worked? What needs to be fixed? What did we learn? Whether your team soared or sank, the COVID-19 crisis will show the importance of documenting, updating and practicing your crisis communications. Commit to conducting crisis communications drills on a regular basis. Professional and collegiate athletes practice the basics time and again to ensure that, when the pressure is on, they can execute flawlessly. Don’t your customers deserve the best too?

CHECK OUT THESE EEC RESOURCES ON CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS

We have expanded our blogging and resources on crisis communications in recent months, and those posts tend to be among our best-read content. In case you missed them the first time around, or would like an easy way to access those resources, click on the titles below:
Energy Crisis Communications Made Easier
Build Your Safety Net Before You Need It
Utilities — Will Your Crises Kill You or Make You Stronger?
Gas Utility Needs Better Crisis Communications
Crisis Communications: What’s Brewing Inside Your Utility?
The Simple, Enduring Truths of Crisis Communications
AEP’s Unique Crisis and How It Fought Back
Media Relations: 10 Tips from Two Pros

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