BURRILLVILLE – The Pascoag Utility District is in the process of updating their customer service and power outage reporting software to a system expected to decrease hold times, provide real-time information and allow for reporting problems with the push of a button.
The new outage software could launch as soon as early April, and will be fully operational by mid-month, according to officials with the local utility company.
“We’re in the testing phase. It’s been pretty interesting,” said PUD General Manager Michael Kirkwood. “Already we can tell that’s it’s going to be a huge improvement.”
The new module will launch with a real-time map of district outages, and a system that recognizes phone numbers, allowing customers to automatically report a power loss, or see if one has already been reported in their area.
According to Kirkwood, customers will see the greatest difference when calling after hours. Until now, he noted, PUD had staff to answer calls during the day, but at night the company utilized a generic answering service shared with other various offices, such as doctors.
“Our old answering system was not good. They don’t specialize in what we do,” he said. “This company specializes in utilities, and answering emergency calls. It will give our customers a much better experience.”
Callers will soon speak with a staff that works exclusively with small municipal utility district-type companies.
“These guys know what they’re doing,” Kirkwood said. “They know the business.”
The new software, meanwhile, will utilize the same phone number that already serves PUD’s roughly 5,000 electric customers, and integrates the call center with billing, so those calling can get information and updates after hours. Starting in mid-April, customers looking to report an outage will be able to call the office, where an automated system will recognize their service location; or log in to their SmartHub account to view current outages, a practice in line with other, larger utility companies.
“Customers are always going to have the option to talk to a live person,” explained Desarae Dolan, PUD’s supervisor of administration. “It just means we’re going to have the backup in an outage situation.”
The result, Dolan explained, will be less hold time and the ability to register an outage just by pressing a button.
The system will also come with a new mobile app and an automatic outage alert system once it’s fully implemented.
Kirkwood said he learned of the software while visiting Rhode Island’s only other small-scale electric provider, the Block Island Utility District. Kirkwood toured the Block Island call center with that company’s general manager.
“He showed us how it integrated with the outage management system,” Kirkwood said.
While the new software is more expensive than PUD’s the old system, the general manager noted that it will allow the district to save money by eliminating on-call staffing at night.
“It allowed us to do some things to control costs,” Kirkwood said. “Until now, we always had to pay someone to be on call.”
To best utilize the new software, customers should make sure PUD has their correct contact information, including all phone numbers associated with the household.
“That will be key to making this even more efficient,” Kirkwood said.
Dolan noted that while PUD will still provide updates on social media, customers should no longer use the utility district’s page to report outages.
“Right now, our customers tend to report a lot of outages on Facebook,” Dolan said.
PUD’s phone number – (401) 568-6222 – will remain the same for both billing and emergencies. A notice of the changes is set to go out with customer’s April bills.
Kirkwood noted it’s a needed upgrade for a company already known for fast and reliable local electric service.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said of the new software. “We’re really excited here about the whole thing.”