How does a utility company placate approximately 2.2 million angry customers who have been without electricity for as long as 24 hours in the Karachi summer? For the Karachi Electric Supply Company, at least part of the answer appears to be in the use of social media, especially Twitter.
During a massive power outage in Karachi on Saturday night, the KESC Twitter account – @KESC_Ltd – geared up its activity. The account is manned singlehanded by one public relations employee, who kept responding remarkably politely to complaints from several customers who had lost power.
Through the Twitter account, for instance, customers came to know that the fault started with the tripping of two of the utility’s main 220 kilo-Volt (kV) extra-high tension circuits. A press release on Sunday later explained that “this caused a domino effect, tripping three of its 132kV transmission lines. This unprecedented complex tripping had a cascading effect, which in turn led to automatic tripping of approximately 40% of the grid stations supplying power to the city. The unexpected tripping on the circuits was brought about by the consistently high levels of stagnant humidity on the outskirts of the city where these transmission lines are located.”
The shutdowns had to be manually restored, a process that took over 24 hours in some cases. Meanwhile, the KESC Twitter account kept providing updates on the repair work, telling complainants from each area at what time power in their area was expected to be restored. It did not always get the timing right; but to their credit, they quickly provided revised estimates and explained the delay.
Customers were understandably irate at first, but when they realised they could engage with the company via Twitter (invariably through their smartphones), many of them began to praise KESC for its social media engagement efforts.
For instance, Najeeb Anwar, after tweeting to KESC twice to ask for the status of his neighbourhood, initially said: “@KESC_Ltd you seem to be sleeping. Asked u twice already. Clfton bl 7 and defence ph 6. How much time till power restoration?” The KESC account responded saying that they had sent him a direct message. Following that reply, Anwar said: “@KESC_Ltd sorry for the taunt. U know u are the best”.
It was not just customers that praised KESC. Twitter users from India compared the effectiveness of KESC’s social media response to that of India’s power companies, which faced similar blackouts recently, albeit on a wider scale.
Naina Redhu, a Delhi-based photographer, tweeted: “Karachi has a power break down & their utility company @KESC_Ltd tweets steady stream of updates. Any company in India does it?”
Responses like this are exactly what KESC, the country’s only privately owned utility company, would have been hoping for.
“The Twitter account is part of KESC’s effort to keep customers engaged. We feel that as long as customers are in the loop, they will be understanding, even if there is a major problem, like the systemic outage over the weekend,” said Rehman, the company spokesperson.
Yet while the weekend efforts of KESC’s one-man social media team won praise from many, some feel that the company can do better. Danish Ejaz, a Karachi-based advertising executive and social media expert, for instance, pointed out that the company should integrate its social media efforts across platforms.
“There are almost three times as many Facebook users in Pakistan as there are Twitter users. KESC should not just rely on Twitter, they should also use Facebook,” he said.
He added that the company should also take into consideration the fact that a majority of its customers still do not have smartphones, and start providing updates via text messages. “I did not follow KESC on Twitter,” said Ejaz, even though he uses an Android. “I got a text message from a friend who knew somebody at KESC. They should try to provide this service to a wider audience on text messages.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2012.
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@DevilHunterX: It is something definitely on the cards and will be rolled out amongst other of our initiatives soon.
@KESC_Ltd: When will we get SMART meters?
Danish Ejaz works in the advertising agency which has the KESC advertising account. How cool is that?
i dnt have a smart phone and yet i could access it through a normal nokia one with internet.anyone can search and follow and it is indeed efficent effective and polite!! kudus to the person!!
@Roti, kapra aur...: if u read the article again you'il see they mentioned accessing twitter through SMARTPHONES!
@Anti-Kunda Campaigner: Totally agree with your views. It is estimated that there are about 500,000 illegal Kunda Connections in Karachi. Which is apart from the theft which happens through meter tampering, etc. So you can imagine the nighmare it is for KESC. Because 1% loss via theft translates into Rs. 1 Billion! But over the past 4 years, since privatization - we have been able to reduce theft losses by about 10% from 39% to now 29%. But a lot more needs to be done.
Surely there are unscrupulous elements within KESC as well; hence it is a continuous process and battle for us - Internally and Externally.
@MAD: Surely there is a lot more to be done. And we are on that track. With the help of our honest bill paying customers, we can and will do that.
@Liberal: Definitely there is a lot more ground that needs to be covered. But there are steps in the right direction and more will be done.
Greatly Appreciate and Value the Patience, Understanding and Support Extended to Us By All Our Consumers During the Unfortunate Series of Events on Aug 4 & 5. Indeed there are some areas which still need to come up the curve, but definitely during the past 4 yrs, post privatization great strides have been made by KESC and much ground has been covered. And there is more to be done. This Social Media initiative is also just one more way of showing our customers..... That We Care. Truly Value this story by Express Tribune, Courtesy Farooq Tirmizi, for highlighting positives amidst a lot of negativity. Power to All,
KESC has bright and smart policy Investors First, Vendors Second, Consumers can be taken care of on Twitter!
we must be a stupid lot
Interesting read...Now write a piece to highlight the millions of uncontrollable Kunda Systems (power theft cases) which KESC has badly failed to counter. Even some KESC employees take bribe to adjust the Kunda... the Kunda users not only consume electricity but generously use it to run Air Conditioners, Air Coolers and other heavy power consuming electronics... KESC Khappay!!
@Roti, kapra aur...: Twitter is available on semi smart feature phones as well so quite a few actually..
I wounder Customer engagement can substitute of any failure in delivering services miserably again and again
Well many complain about KESC, which is mostly right, however I have started building a feeling that they are managing the load-shedding better than what they used to do in the past. And this effort is remarkable imo although I don't use twitter...
SMS "follow @KESC_ltd" to 40404 and get KESC's updates via text :)
Ha! how many could actually access twitter without the power supply!!??
Okay i agree they're only scratching the surface here but atleast its a start.
The person handling the KESC_Ltd handle deserves unlimited praises. I was following him on twitter throughout and even tweeted to him some times to ask for electricity related updates. He responsded to queries (non-stop) throughout the night, for a duration that I believe stretched around 14 hours and I think he even got sent to Twitter jail for some time, such was his high frequency of tweets. This is seriously some amazing dedication to the job and this person through his efforts has really improved the image of KESC.
At least a good start. Well Done KESC however you guys can still improve.
I absolutely agree, engaging customers in such situations really does wonders!!
It gives, the ones in trouble, the feel that people who are supposed to take care of the problem are already at it, which is quite pacifying.
Yeah, KESC should look into further improving their communication through text messages.