Evergy's Current Crisis
Reddit comments shed light on KC power company's unhappy customers
Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst
Using small datasets to significant effect
We love social listening data at Infegy because of how reactive it is. Data from online conversations give us real-time insights into how consumers think about a particular crisis, whether niche or global.
Kansas City, Infegy's hometown, experienced massive thunderstorms recently on July 14, 2023, that knocked out the power for over 200,000 people (8% of the metropolitan area). Using threads and comments from Reddit's r/KansasCity, we'll dive into how our neighbors and friends discussed Evergy, KC's largest electric company, in the context of that giant storm. This increased attention on Evergy heightened scrutiny on the company in the worst possible context as they recently asked for a 6% rate increase from regulators. Suddenly, people who didn't pay much attention to the company before were now closely watching how they handled the power outage crisis and considering the potential rate hike.
We'll dive into how the conversation unfolded online, looking at the power outage and Evergy's response. We'll also examine how this attention affected the discussions around the rate increase. Social listening helps us understand how events can shape public perception and draw more attention to important issues.
Data sourced from Reddit comments
For our dataset, we focused on grabbing threads and comments from Reddit's Kansas City subreddit, one of the many communities on Reddit where people discuss various topics. Subreddits are great for getting detailed and meaningful conversations about a particular issue because they're free from spam and attract people genuinely invested in a specific subject. For this study, we analyzed only around 1,500 comments from 12 storm and power-related threads, which might seem small in a social listening context. Despite the small sample size, we're still able to tell a nuanced story about how the event and customer displeasure unfolded.
Post volume follows the storm
In our research, we always start by analyzing post volume, which gives us an overall sense of the storm's impact. Each color in the post volume graph represents a different Reddit thread we collected from. We noticed a significant purple spike when the storm initially hit, and people flooded Reddit to vent their frustrations about the power outage. After that, we observed similar patterns in the subsequent colors, showing growth in power-related thread comments, followed by a gradual decline as other content surfaces on users' feeds.
Tracking negative emotions across the storm
After exploring the storm-related post volume, let's examine the sentiment expressed in users' discussions. We used Infegy's sentiment engine to analyze the comments. Our findings revealed that the initial spike in post volume was a mix of positive and negative sentiments, occurring when people experienced power outages. However, as the outages persisted, negative comments about Evergy started to outweigh the positive ones. Delving into these comments, we discovered growing frustration towards Evergy's inability to restore power, leading to an increase in negative sentiment throughout the storm and outage period.
Topics reveal customer anger
Now, let's delve into the specific language that underpins the trends in customer anger throughout the analyzed period. To achieve this, we first examined the most relevant topics, including nouns, adjectives, and verbs commonly used in conversations. We color-coded these topics based on sentiment, with red indicating usage in more negative posts and green representing mentions in more positive ones. Among these topics, Evergy stood out as the most negative, frequently appearing in the discussions. When we delved deeper, we found that only 16% of the posts mentioning Evergy in this sample size were positive. Evergy appeared more frequently than words like "food," "transformer," and "outage."
Narrative clusters show "rate increase" conversation
In the final part of our analysis, we used Narratives, our clustering algorithm, to uncover the context in which people discussed Evergy, gaining a comprehensive understanding of the sentiment surrounding the company during this period. Among the most significant clusters, we observed topics related to the hours of outages, spoiled food, and running generators—predictable consequences of the storm. However, we also identified a small yet significant cluster (labeled as 8) centered around rate increases. Interestingly, despite no prior online discussions about this increase, people are now talking about it. The negative sentiment surrounding the storm could potentially lead to a strong public reaction against the proposed rate hike. Evergy's leadership must closely monitor this trend to determine whether proceeding with the rate increase proposal amidst frustrated customers is a wise decision. Time will tell how this situation unfolds.
Takeaways for company executives
By analyzing post volume, sentiment, emotions, and specific language, we uncovered a significant surge in negative sentiment directed at Evergy due to their response to the crisis. Notably, discussions about the company's proposed rate increase emerged, indicating potential public backlash amidst customer dissatisfaction. Social listening data can be a powerful tool for businesses like Evergy, guiding their decisions and highlighting the importance of promptly and transparently addressing customer concerns. Social listening can offer a real-time understanding of public perception. This enables businesses to navigate crises effectively and make informed decisions for the benefit of their customers and their business.