3 MIN READ | Utilities

How to prepare Contact Centers for the next heat wave

Dave Kostos
Aug. 23 2023
Inclement weather, heat wave over the city

The Summer of 2023 was the warmest ever recorded. In July 2023, more than half of the United States was under a heat advisory or flood warning leading to enormous demand on electrical grids and utility providers that inevitably resulted in power outages. In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there have been 123 major disturbances and unusual occurrences with electrical utility service providers across the country in 2023.

For utility providers, that’s a major challenge because each of these power outages could result in waves of customer complaints, contact center delays or outages, and millions of dollars in civil penalty actions and regulatory fines.

To prepare your contact centers for the next record-breaking heat wave, it’s essential to perform regular, comprehensive performance and load testing and continuous monitoring. Here’s how to make sure that your organization is ready to withstand the heat before the temperature starts to rise.

Ensure optimized performance with Contact Center load testing

Utility company contact centers experience a huge variety of traffic volumes. There will be stretches when customer calls, SMS, email, and chat messages barely come in at all, but as soon as power starts going out traffic skyrockets – especially when dangerous weather conditions like heat waves threaten the comfort and safety of customers.

And, as temperatures increase and traffic volumes into utility contact centers start to climb, traffic volumes out of utility contact centers do the same. In the warmer months, utility providers are more active in collections and advisory campaigns: many leveraging outbound SMS and email campaigns to connect with customers about account payments and power usage.

To ensure the utility contact centers can handle the sudden increase in demand from internal and external sources, contact center leaders should perform utility-specific performance testing and load testing that simulates the worst conditions contact center applications, outage management systems, and CSRs will face.

Performed properly, these tests throw a spotlight on the performance, logic, and customer experience issues that cause delays and lead to regulatory non-compliance when the temperatures rise.

Common issues found during utility contact center testing include:

  • Voice infrastructure bottlenecks: Dropped and delayed transfers to and from holding queues
  • Outage application timeouts: Resource overutilization due to middleware sizing and SAP database latency
  • Dropped calls while transferring from third-party IVRs to CSRs

Hammer has developed utility specific test plans that isolate and validate these commonly found chokepoints through a progression of tests that increase in complexity and scale. These test plans are executed to ensure that utility contact centers can meet regulator-required storm conditions (typically 70-90% outage conditions).

In fact, Hammer test reports are frequently submitted to regulators to prove that contact centers meet all relevant risk mitigation and due diligence requirements.

Why heat waves necessitate Contact Center load testing

As temperatures continue to break records year-over-year, heat waves are becoming more common, more damaging, and more deadly. It makes sense that the demand for reliable air conditioning is keeping the same breakneck pace. What that means for utility providers is the need to serve more customers, more often, more efficiently than ever before.

Trend chart of global temperature anomaly during Summer 2023. Source: NASA, https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/14407

With this increased demand comes increased regulations from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Just this June, while temperatures were climbing to their record height, the FERC finalized its first-ever reliability standards for periods of extreme heat and cold.

As reported by Power Grid International, one of these new standards “directs transmission providers to submit reports describing their policies and processes for conducting extreme weather vulnerability assessments and identifying mitigation strategies.”

These new standards are in addition to existing federal, state, and municipal availability regulations enforced in the utility sector, which can levy millions of dollars in fines for non-compliance.

Heat wave coming? Hammer Contact Center solutions can help

For over 30 years, Hammer has been the world leader in automated CX testing and quality assurance. In that time, we’ve helped some of America’s largest utility providers prepare their organizations for the most extreme weather conditions.

From customized test planning and comprehensive, end-to-end vulnerability assessments to ongoing quality monitoring and performance optimization, Hammer solutions are built to protect your brands reputation and help you deliver world-class customer service when and where it’s needed most.

Interested in learning more? Contact our team today to see how Hammer can help you overcome the worst conditions that Mother Nature throws at you.

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