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When Hurricane Isabel slammed through the Mid-Atlantic states served by Pepco Holdings, Inc. (PHI) in late 2003, the power company rushed to help nearly 1 million of its customers who had lost electricity in an area that was declared a Federal Disaster area. But the widespread destruction created huge delays, many customers became furious, and some of the local media criticized the company severely. PHI set out to rebuild its reputation for customer care that had dropped markedly after the disaster. This is a key issue for PHI, a regulated utility that relies on “permission” from customers to obtain regulatory approvals. Its goal was to reestablish itself as a trusted source of information in an emergency. To help, the company retained James Lee Witt, former head of FEMA and a disaster response expert, to analyze the company’s actions. His study formed the basis for significant new public response and management feedback systems, developed by PHI public relations staff and Stanton Communications, and put into place in early 2004. At the end of the year a new opinion survey showed strong gains in customer satisfaction, with reputation levels in virtually all categories exceeding those reported before the storm.
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