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Web Manager in Corporate Communications

by Dennis D. McDonald

Date of Interview

  • February 2, 2006

Description of Respondent

  • Respondent is Web Manager in the Communications Department of a large publicly held electric utility.
  • Respondent co-manages the company's customer facing web site in cooperation with managers from the Customer Service department and the Information Technology (IT) department.

Interview Notes

  • Respondent is one of three managers in charge of the company's customer facing web site. The other two represent Customer Service and the IT department.
  • Respondent is now currently reviewing a variety of possible uses of blogging and other technologies based on presentations being made by outside technology vendors. One idea under consideration is to use blogging and podcasting in support of a "community forum" linked to the web site.
  • Most of the interview focused on blogging as this is under consideration now. Respondent feels that, for a public utility such as his, there are several factors against using blogs as a component in customer relations, e.g.,
    • Based on studies of web use and other customer communications with the company (e.g., with call center) customers are usually contacting the company with an explicit inquiry (e.g., to inquire about a bill, to pay a bill, to make a payment arrangement, etc.) and are not interested in developing a conversation or "relationship." According to the respondent, "We're not a 'fun site' to go to."
    • From the company's perspective, any conversation with a customer where any numbers or facts are provided have to be carefully vetted, e.g., by the legal department. This is a heavily regulated environment and great care is taken to avoid misrepresentation of facts or figures.
    • Respondent notes that there is a concern that in a blogging situation, given what company already knows about the concerns people have when they call into the call center, that a blogging based system might quickly become "swamped" with negative comments.
  • Respondent says that one area being investigated is to possibly use blogging in support of small business customers, whose needs are more like household customers than large businesses. Large business customers, he says, are more likely to already employ an inhouse person to manage energy related systems and issues, and this negates some of the potential value of blogging or more interactivity with large customers with complex electrical and energy situations. Respondent says that the functionality that is potentially relevant to small businesses is more "extranet like" than specific to blogging.
  • "Blogging needs to be free and conversational," the respondent said. He continued by stating that, via their existing web site, the company already posts daily updates to a variety of pages and sections - energy prices, for example, and company news. New content is being displayed regularly and a content management system supports this.
  • Respondent says that utilities sometimes have to use complex engineering language to describe concepts such as advanced metering and this may impact suitability of conversational methods such as blogs.
  • Regarding management of IT resources, respondent says that it is not unusual to go outside the company for vendor supplied solutions that tie into the web site, but that each time this is done (integration of another external system) the possibility arises of a "Pandora's box" of potential integration issues down the road.
  • He also pointed out that integrating an external service - say, a blogging vendor -- requires branding and image management as well (e.g., logo management) not just technology management. So there are other potential concerns besides IT system integration and standards to consider.
  • Respondent noted that pressure is coming from Marketing for IT to generate a unified view of customers, but that each time a new system that touches customers is added, it becomes harder to generate this unified view.
  • Interviewer noted that this reminded him of past conversations about the desire to generate a unified view of customers to support call center staff so that at the time of a call a complete history of customer relations would be available. Respondent agreed with the analogy.
  • Respondent says, "IT department will do whatever you ask them to do."  The problem is that developing a comprehensive and unified view of customers in situations where multiple interfacing systems and databases have evolved over the years can by itself be a multi-year task - and people get impatient.
  • Respondent questions how useful blogging would be in case of a crisis or disaster situation. Company already has well developed procedures in place, tested each quarter, in which staff practice disaster response. Communications at such times become centralized in Corporate Communications department. Respondent questions whether providing a service such as an "interactive community bulletin board" service in crisis or disaster situations really should be the responsibility of an electric utility.
  • Respondent doesn't see utility of blogging as useful in field service operations - says company is already investing heavily in wireless systems for field communications and reporting of text and image data.

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