Mobile Access to Information Key in Face of Weather Disasters

by Frank Schnieder, Regional Vice President – Sales, Eastern US

While Sandy created havoc across the mid-Atlantic, the primary thoughts on my mind were regarding the safety and well-being of my family and friends. As I write this, my thoughts and well wishes go out to everyone affected.

Access to information, whether it be nearest shelter locations, how to report down live wires, or road closure updates, quickly became a secondary, albeit important, thought for me as the storm developed.  With power down, my mobile device became my access to the world.

fema_tweet_20121108As my credit card companies began to send out preemptive email forgiveness for late payments, I realized we were in unchartered territory in regards to customer experience. However, it was when FEMA went out of its way to request that people stay off their phones and utilize Twitter and text messages for communication that wasn’t urgent that a new reality of call deflection really hit home for me.

virtual assistant that can provide access to relevant, even personalized content, delivered as answers to my questions asked in natural language, would be a fantastic way to lessen the congestion existing on the PSTN and nationwide cellular networks. Still, several days after the storm 1 in 5 cell towers across the PA, NJ, NY area were down due to backup battery failure or over congestion on the network.

What worked well throughout last week was my cellular data signal – respect to Verizon. With voice call difficulties, 311 having difficulty handling double the volume last Monday alone and updates truly occurring 24/7, a mobile virtual assistant application could have skillfully assisted with the following tasks and more:

  1. My state FEMA could have provided mobile access to a virtual assistant that I could ask, “Where is my nearest shelter?”  A virtual assistant could find my GPS signal and provide the shelter location with navigation to the site. Road closures on the route would make the journey difficult, but a virtual assistant could provide up-to-the-minute content personalized for my area and selected shelter.
  2. With my local power company’s IVR and call centers jammed with calls, I could instruct a virtual assistant to provide instant information to my provider such as “I’d like to report a broken pole at 1st and Main.” In turn, they could provide me with instructions on how to handle or avoid additional dangers if the live wires were to come down completely.
  3. Having a virtual assistant embedded within your social media pages (like National Rail Enquiries’ Ask Lisa on Facebook), can alleviate social media agents to focus on a higher tier of escalated chat, while the virtual assistant could answer questions like, “When will the power be restored in my area?” Based on location, the virtual assistant could provide the ETA on restoration, all embedded within the social channel. FEMA’s request to move things to social channels could be well-accommodated.
  4. Less essential, but relevant to me now that I have spent the bulk of last week cleaning up, is what do I do with this debris? A virtual assistant could provide information about disposal recommendations, altered trash schedules, etc. specific to my area.

Mobile content delivery is always a challenge, and we often cite customer preference as one of the critical reasons for clients to have a strong mobile customer service strategy.  Hurricane Sandy reinforced for me that proper next generation strategies are truly becoming a necessity.