On Tuesday, March 13th, Boston experienced a large power outage due to a transformer fire. NStar crews arrived to the scene in mass in a heroic effort to contain the fire and get the Back Bay, Fenway and South Boston residents and businesses back online within a matter of days.

The rancor of citizens and public officials, it seems, was not with the outage itself, or even the response effort of NStar to fix the damage. NStar created its own PR problem when they repeatedly set and failed impossible deadlines.

In and NECN interview, Mayor Menino said, “NStar was responsive to a point, but sometimes they overpromised.”

The 115,000-volt transformer fire occurred at 6:30 p.m. on March 13. NStar responded quickly, reporting that they were
“assessing the situation and will begin power restoration as soon as possible,” via their Twitter account, @NSTAR_NEWS.

At 5:02 a.m. Wednesday, March 14, they claimed via Twitter to have restored power to 8,000 customers and would restore power throughout the day and into the evening for the remaining 13,000. That tweet, widely reported by Boston news stations, set the standard that power would be completely restored by the end of Wednesday. When residents and shopkeepers awoke Thursday without power, they started to get angry.

When power restoration did not happen Wednesday, NStar promised citizens via news conferences that they would restore power during the Wednesday evening commute.

That, too, did not happen for some 12,000 Back Bay, Kenmore Square and Fenway residents.

Later Wednesday, at 5:59 p.m., the City of Boston tweeted via @NotifyBoston that “NSTAR reports power back to Back Bay/Kenmore restored by 7 p.m. Power to Pru/Copley area around 4 a.m.”

Ironically, Boston resident Marcela Garcia retweeted them, qualifying “FOR SHO???”

Those deadlines, along with the next three; Thursday by 6 a.m., 10 a.m., and finally noon, proved meaningless as well.

Things got worse, however. At 3:20 NStar tweeted, “NStar has restored power to all customers in Boston except the Prudential Center – still expecting later today for them.” The problem, however, was that manhole fires had erupted on Huntington Avenue causing outages to areas they had previously restored, and the entire area of Fenway and Kenmore affected by the outages was still dark.

Alisa Miles, along with many other outraged citizens, called NStar “Liars!!” on Twitter, upset with the false claims.

At 1:46 a.m. on Friday, Fenway’s power was restored. The rest of the area regained power overnight as well, with the exception of the Prudential Center and buildings needing special attention to circuits.

The problem was never the power loss. Customers understand accidents happen and citizens were surprisingly calm about the ordeal. The mayor even noted that Bostonians, famous for their bad motoring habits, were driving with extra caution. The problem arose when NStar repeatedly set and missed impossible deadlines. If they had come out on Tuesday and explained that the task was a large endeavor and they hoped to have power safely restored to residents within a week, people would have been very excited to regain power three days later. Instead, they felt consistently mislead.

Answering specific deadlines when an entire city is clamoring for immediate fixes is not an easy feat. However, setting realistic deadlines – while leaving yourself some cushion – ultimately helps the customer. If a crisis occurs and timelines are uncertain, under-promising and over-delivering is always the best route.

At Stratus, we try to be as transparent with our service level agreements and expectations as possible. We even post the actual high availability of supported Stratus systems worldwide calculated every day, on our website. With Stratus, customers know exactly what they can expect, and we consistently deliver to standard.

What is your company’s policies around SLAs? Do you have policies around crisis response? Share in the comments!

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