This summer brought one of the worst storm systems in recent history to the Midwestern United States with the August 2020 Midwest derecho. Iowa and Illinois were hit particularly hard. With large storms comes lots of power outages. These storms happened in the last week of my internship with ComEd, who provide most of the electricity to the Northern Illinois Region. These storms resulted in the second largest total outages in the company’s history.
With their internet channels being relatively new and having never seen the high-volume flow of customer concerns and questions, they were required to implement new methods to reach all customers on the fly. The outage map that customers are typically directed to for outage restoration estimates crashed. The IVR phone system crashed and customers calling were not able to speak to a customer service representative. The feature on the website to report an outage went down. The only way left for customers to contact the company ended up being through social media. This began a rapid training of employees and interns from other departments, to respond to public and private social media mentions and messages. All that was able to be communicated to the public by the company was that the universal restoration time would take six days. Having interned with the social media team previously, I was able to reference my past training and used it to help respond to as many people as possible who reached out with their concerns escalated the tickets of those in high-risk and vulnerable situations. The social media team trained over 50 employees from other parts of the company to respond to messages on their social media platforms so they were able to help escalate customer issues and relay information pertaining to how the company was moving forward given the situation they were in.
It was an eye opening experience for me to be able to work during such an unprecedented time for ComEd. It taught me a lot about what is necessary to stay calm, prepare yourself and lead others during a communication crisis.
By: Josh Pozniak
PRecisely PR is the blog of the Illinois State University Chapter of the PRSSA. We write about Chapter events, the public relations industry, member profiles, and more.