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2021 Small Business

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Texas Winter Storm: What we can learn

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The thirst for vengeance came as fast as the temperature plunged. Homes turned frigid and dark. Moms and dads scoured closets for dusty blankets, scarfs, hats and gloves. And public figures pointed their toasty fingers through social media as the Texas Winter Storm of 2021 crashed our biggest cities.

As are most of you, I’m perplexed, upset and sad for what happened – the latest atmospheric calamity in Houston. As friends, family and employees scramble for plumbers, contractors and adjusters, I wonder if we’re all chasing the same talking points of politicians, or if we’re focused on things that should have been under control.

It is not within my purview to assign blame for the power outages and ultimate water loss of last week. There are plenty of journalists and a few decent politicians who will tackle the task. There will be hearings, lawsuits, legislation and debate on how to never again put the most vulnerable among us at such lethal risk.

You see, in times when people are at their lowest, when they’re worried and freezing and hearing six different answers to the same question, you know what people want the most? Information. They want communication.

What I can’t understand, and feel perfectly fine debating, is the utterly horrific response of the entities that spend millions upon millions responding to us throughout the year.

As we sat in our powerless homes during this winter storm, we all kept to the same routines. We wrapped our children in clothing. We found ways to warm food. We scuttled back and forth to the driveway as our cars slowly charged our phones.

While there were cellular network issues in some parts of the city, most of us were still connected to the digital world of endless noise. When we could wrestle our phones away from children, we begged for updates. We texted with friends to find out if they had power. We scanned emails in hopes that our utility providers would offer something, anything.

Instead, we got nothing. Zero. As dark as our frozen homes.

What happened in the Texas Winter Storm

At my house, we have one provider for gas, CenterPoint, and another retailer, TXU, for electricity. Here’s the extent of the messages I received from those two companies:

CenterPoint sent us a message on Feb. 14, at 10:28 p.m. the night the ice arrived:

“In anticipation of high heating demand in response to the extremely cold temperatures, we are asking our Texas customers to temporarily lower their thermostat to help conserve natural gas.”

Of course, I wasn’t checking my email at 10:28 p.m. and didn’t see the message until Monday morning, but the rest of the note was designed to offer tips on staying safe and conserving energy.

The next form of communication I received from CenterPoint came on Friday, Feb. 19. That’s right. Not a single email, not a text, nothing during the entire course of the winter storm. And as you might imagine, the Friday email from CenterPoint let us know everything was OK again.

“Thank you to all our customers for your resilience during this historic winter storm. Once power supplies were available, we were able to resume delivering electricity to our customers… As of today, we’ve restored power to nearly everyone,” the email read.

Things were actually worse from our electricity retail provider. TXU sent me an email in January letting me know it was time to pay my bill. The next email I received from them was on Monday, Feb. 22 – exactly one week after the storm hit and four days after power had been restored. The email gave you such a warm feeling:

“As Texas recovers from the recent winter weather emergency, here’s how you can count on us…” Then they listed things like insulating our rates, payment flexibility, peace of mind and, my personal favorite, “Here for you 24/7.”

Except TXU was not there for us 24/7. Except we couldn’t count on TXU, or CenterPoint for that matter, for what we all needed most: Information.

Communication matters most

You see, in times when people are at their lowest, when they’re worried and freezing and hearing six different answers to the same question, you know what people want the most? Information. They want communication.

When the people of Houston were confused, when they heard phrases like “rolling blackouts” and assumed power would turn off and on in determined intervals, and then those same people went 48 or 68 hours without power, you know what we wanted most? Information. We wanted communication.

Instead, we got nothing. The same companies that store our social security numbers, hold a deposit in case we skip town, text us the moment a bill is late, email us when they need us to turn down our thermostats, those companies can’t do us the courtesy of a quick note to tell us something? Anything?

It wouldn’t have mattered what they said. They could have told us the power might be out another three days, and at least we would have known.

They could have told us they knew absolutely nothing, and we would have felt some assurance they would let us know when they did.

Instead of something so basic, we got absolute zero direct communication.

After the winter blast, and after the lights were again lit, someone told me a number of CEOs of energy companies were at press conferences that were televised. I also learned CenterPoint did update their Twitter account. So for the millions who don’t have Twitter accounts, or the 1.3 million who had no power, it makes no sense they chose to communicate that way. Especially when they have the ability to reach all of their customers individually.

Look, I have a decent understanding of how this whole power supply thing works. It’s not CenterPoint’s fault we didn’t have power – they are not allowed to generate. I know it’s not TXU’s fault – they just buy the power, mark it up, and sell it to us, wrapped in a fancy logo.

I also know CenterPoint and TXU and every other provider have massive marketing budgets and systems that allow them to reach their customers any time they need us.

Apparently, those budgets don’t cover the times when we need them.

 

This opinion piece originally published on our partner site, The Leader News.

 

Jonathan McElvy is the CEO of McElvy Partners. His company includes the Greensheet, The Leader, Fort Bend Star, Charlotte Media Group, Coastal Bend Publishing and Texas Printers. He has managed and owned small businesses for 20 years. If your business would like to talk more about your individual needs, click HERE for contact information. You can follow him on Twitter @mcelvy.

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