Utility companies are missing an opportunity to deliver outstanding customer service by not taking full advantage of social media, mobile apps and other digital channels to share information about outages, storms and other issues, according to a report from the PA Consulting Group.

Report authors Rajiv Diwan and John Hall shared their analysis in a recent article on the Intelligent Utility web site. Noting Forrester research indicating that 72 percent of customers prefer self-service for support issues over phone or email, Diwan and Hall say utilities could respond by tapping the full power of social media interaction to radically improve the customer experience.

They encourage utilities to form partnerships with customers, encouraging them to (safely) gather and share real-time information about outages or storm damage, such as road blockages, lighting strikes and downed wires.

“Information from social media sources, particularly when ‘crowd-sourced’ across the various channels and associated with geo-tagged data from customers’ smartphones/social media posts, may provide a wealth of additional information to help identify hazards and prioritize activities that may ultimately help improve the overall restoration and the damage assessment process,” the analysts wrote.

It seems to be wise guidance, yet the analysts point out that less than one percent of customers follow their local utilities on Twitter, which shows utilities haven’t yet seized the potential of these communication channels.