On Sunday night just after 7 p.m., I was finishing making dinner when the lights went out. Fortunately, I was finished cooking, but it still was surprising. There were no storms in the area. In fact, the weather was damn beautiful for an August evening. And here my wife and I sat without power. As we sat down in our back yard to dig in, she suggested I check with Nextdoor.com to see if anyone had reported it. My neighbor had already confirmed that she too was sans electricity, but plenty of people in our area were on the social network for neighborhoods.
When I checked my phone, before I could get to the app, I noticed I had new e-mails. The first was an alert from Nextdoor. Someone in our neighborhood wanted to know if anyone else was without power. The second was from CenterPoint Energy and it shocked the hell out of me.
We are aware of a power issue at or near [address redacted] that is currently affecting approximately 3392 customers. We estimate that we will complete our repairs by 8:29 PM. Please note the actual time required may vary based on the nature of repairs needed, crew availability or during severe weather events. We appreciate your patience as we work to complete our repairs as quickly, and as safely, as possible.
We are not customers of CenterPoint for electricity. Like many in our deregulated state, we chose another provider. But, CenterPoint still handles power outages, so I can only assume they got my e-mail address from our provider. Even so, this was an extremely happy surprise.
The notice also included a link to an interactive map of current outages in the city. Remarkable.
There is often plenty to complain about when it comes to utilities. The cost, the inconvenience and even the sometimes monopoly companies can have on a market are certainly annoying, but maybe they were coming around.
About 30 minutes later, e-mail number two arrived in my inbox.
Repair crews are assessing the power issue at or near [address redacted]. We will update you with additional information about the status of these repairs as it becomes available. We appreciate your patience as we work to complete our repairs as quickly and safely as possible.
Seriously? An update? I'm fairly certain it would take me 10 minutes on hold and multiple people to get this information had I called. And that's only after I went through my own provider's complicated telephone system. Before I could even dial a phone, I was being notified.
And maybe that's the point. Large companies purposefully make it difficult for anyone to find their contact information. They do this to cut down on the number of people they have to pay to answer the phones. Having an alert system that automatically alerts customers to outages as well as progress with repairs would definitely cut down on the number of calls they receive. It's a bonus that it's also great for customers.
Not five minutes after the second alert the power came back own, about 40 minutes shy of their original estimate. Under promise and over deliver, I suppose.
Finally, the last e-mail alert.
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We have completed repairs for the power issue at or near [address redacted]. Our crews determined that the problem was caused by a cause under review. If you are still without service, please check your circuit breakers. If that doesn't resolve the problem, call us at 713-207-2222.
Well, they didn't give the exact issue, but impressive nevertheless. From start to finish, we were kept informed without having to listen to a second of hold music.
The only flaw in the system is that their outage map link went to a web page with Flash, something not accessible on most phones or tablets. Given the likelihood that Internet would be down with power, that would leave quite a few people without the ability to access that somewhat critical information.
But, considering how well the rest of the alert system works, I'm thinking they can have a pass.