By Callie Hietala
Martinsville’s Electric Department is contracting with a call center to interact with customers, particularly during power outages.
Members of Martinsville City Council learned about the new service from Durwin Joyce, director of the city’s electric department at a Jan. 11 meeting.
Joyce said the department has contracted with Daupler to operate a new after-hours call center to respond to the influx of calls received from customers during a power outage.
He expects the service to be operational by March or April.
Joyce said his department knows that residents often experience issues getting through when calling during an outage. The new system will allow two-way communication with the customer, who must opt in to use the free service. Customers will be able to call, text, and even send photos, and the department will be able to respond directly to that customer.
Those who opt in will receive any relevant notifications in the event of an outage, Joyce said, but cautioned the notifications would not be instant.
Sometimes, he said, his department begins receiving calls from customers asking what happened and when power will be restored mere minutes after an outage occurs.
“Five minutes after it (outage) happened, I don’t have an answer for that,” Joyce said.
It takes time for the department to gather data and to provide information to customers, Joyce said. The department’s ability to convey accurate information depends on several circumstances, including the cause of the outage. If the issue is something like a downed tree, and there is a single point of failure, the department will be able to share information and an estimated restoration time more quickly.
However, he said, if an outage occurs in the evening, it takes time for a crew to assemble, get to the site, and assess the damage. Even then, the crew may need to call in additional members or a supervisor to fully assess the situation.
“It can still easily be 1 to 2 hours before we can send out a notice that says, ‘we estimate your power to be restored by 8 p.m. tonight,’” Joyce said, adding that the new service will provide the capability to at least send a notice to affected customers, assuring them the city is aware of an outage and is working to assess the damage.
Mayor Kathy Lawson said the new system was a “100 percent better system than what we currently have.” She expects residents will appreciate having a direct way to communicate when the power is out.
More details about the system will be sent to the city’s electric customers via inserts in a future utility bill.
In other matters, the council:
*Recognized city employees who are eligible for service awards for Oct. 1-Dec. 31, 2021, including: Christopher Sigman, Refuse Collection (5 years); Jayme Clark and David Koger, Police Department (5 years each); Joshua Lawson (5 years) and Wayne Moore (10 years), Wastewater Plant; Emily Tongue, Utility Billing (5 years); Brian Mays, Central Garage (5 years); Rodney Pritchett and Ashley Duncan, Sheriff’s Office (5 years each); and James Hopkins, Fire Department (20 years.)
*Heard from Assistant Director of Henry-Martinsville Department of Social Services, April Evans, about the CarePortal project, which will be implemented soon.
*Approved the consent agenda and the minutes for the Dec. 14 meeting.