Dear Mr. Butler,
I’m not the President and COO of a major utility. My annual income is less than yours by so many orders of magnitude I’m not even going to waste my time figuring it out. Yet as a self-employed person who does her own PR and marketing and further, someone single-parenting two teenagers, I’m going to teach you a few things about successful communication.
I’m doing this free of charge, as a gift to my fellow Connecticut citizens, who, like me, must be wondering if you’ve been taking lessons in damage control from Herman Cain. Seriously dude – every time you open your mouth, the worse you make this situation. So get one of your minions to bring you a coffee (I have no minions, so I’ll make my own) and read on.
Let’s start with preparation. Connecticut Light & Power is still in the dog house with its customers for the abysmal response after Tropical Storm Irene, so I’d have thought you’d make an extra special effort to ensure you guys did better this time. But here we are, almost a week later, and there are still more of your customers without power than in all of the other affected states combined. Yet you have the chutzpah to pretend that the severity of this storm came as a complete surprise to you:
“But I will assure you, when we had the weather forecast and everything we looked at in preparation to this storm, the amount of snow that ended up falling was far more significant than what had been forecast. This event as it came in Saturday started earlier and lasted longer, with more snow accumulation—and remember, all the trees still had their foliage on them.”
So strange, Mr. Butler. See, I was in Pennsylvania visiting my son last week. I heard the weather report on Thursday night and left earlier than planned Friday morning because I was freaked out about this storm and my idea of hell is being stuck on the New Jersey Turnpike in bad weather conditions. It makes me very curious as to which weather forecast you actually listened to – all the ones I heard said the storm was going to be a doozie, and many even made a point of mentioning that whole leafy tree problem.
Then you maintained that you had called out of state crews to augment your reduced number of repair staff as early as Saturday, but this was contradicted by a press release from Dominion Virginia Power, which stated that the request for help wasn’t made until Monday.
See what I mean about the Herman Cain School of public relations?
Customers shouldn’t be treated like mushrooms, Mr. Butler –grown on dung and kept in the dark – especially when they’ve already been in the dark, the cold, and without running water for almost a week.
Just like my teens, your customers deserve to be treated with honesty and respect. It seems to me you haven’t learned squat from the Irene debacle – except how to reassure shareholders that some how you’re going to find a way to recover the storm costs from us poor suckers so that your earnings per share won’t be affected.
Here’s another important lesson in communication from the Sarah D. Littman School of Parenting.
The most powerful word you could have uttered at this time has not crossed your lips.
You’ve been arrogant and evasive and all “Heckuva Job, Brownie.” At Thursday morning’s briefing you said: “I know, especially given the weather conditions, people are frustrated, but I think we’ve been doing a very good job to get customers restored.”
Seriously, Mr. Butler? Even “Brownie” didn’t have the nerve to congratulate himself on doing a good job while people were still stuck at the Superdome.
Your customers need to hear from you what my teens hear from me when I’ve made a mistake. An apology. “Sorry” is a very powerful word, Mr. Butler. You should think about using it.
Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.