The Missus and I prepared for Hurricane Irene and the Great Freak October Snowstorm of '11 the way any media-spooked survivalists would: By stocking the pantry with batteries and willing our earthly possessions to West Coast kin. As it turns out, we dodged the trees and raging hellwater that crushed atriums and moldified basements in neighboring areas, partly due to luck and partly because we closed our windows.
We didn't even lose power, and for this I credit Consolidated Edison. Sure, the utility ignores customers in outlying areas in favor of Manhattanites, and sure, its customer-service philosophy borrows both from Ayn Rand and the principles underpinning military hazing. But for me -- a single fussy individual inclined to universalize his experiences -- Con Ed has more or less delivered on its promise ("if you plug in a lamp and properly manipulate its on/off switch, it will illuminate"). Con Ed is thus the greatest entity in the history of power-transmission. I subscribe to its e-newsletter.
That's how I came to learn that the company isn't as indifferent to low-priority customer yawps as it seems. In fact, judging from the video section of its web site, Con Ed is borderline desperate for customer-initiated interaction that, at least in theory, will lead to healthier supplier/consumer relationships. Not only does the firm pump out more video tutorials and promos than its utility peers, but its offerings trump those of many consumer-goods marketers.
In particular, Con Ed's "The Power of Green" ranks among the more artfully executed campaigns of its ilk. In pressing a responsibility/conservation agenda, the videos aren't exactly novel. But they make up for it with a straightforward, artifice-free approach that simultaneously conveys useful information and casts the featured staffers in a favorable light.
That's what makes the endearingly underproduced videos interesting, actually: the people in them. In each two-minute clip, Con Ed sets a mid-level staffer against a plain white backdrop and, in essence, says, "Talk about what you do." So the blue-shirt-brown-khaki'd IT guy casually deconstructs the power-draining scourge that are screensavers and the blue-shirt-greyish-khaki'd emergency management dude yaps about efficient home heating without suggesting that all furnacestats should be set to a balmy 55 degrees. My favorite actor of the bunch is Dan Polin, a hard-hat-clad damage prevention wonk tasked with instructing mouth-breathers not to dig deep trenches in their yards ("if you hit a high-voltage line, you wouldn't want to be on the other end of the shovel"). You can practically see him straining not to smack amateur excavationistas upside the head.
So yeah, some of the videos are aimed at the less cerebral among us; anyone who needs to be told, "the sun's energy is free" should be unplugged from the grid and placed in protective mittens. But most pass along tips that cheapwads like me will tuck away for posterity, about everything from extreme caulking to efficient use of stovetop burners. Too, they do so in a tone that's more hanging-out-with-knowledgeable-pal than lecture-from-authority-figure.
I realize that customers frustrated with Con Ed's rates and service won't accept that the company has anything besides its own self-interest at heart. That said, I wish my cable and cell phone service providers would reach out in a similar way. It wouldn't make me forgive their other sins against productivity and common sense, but it'd be a nice gesture.