‘Know Their Habits’: Co-op Rep Goes the Extra Mile When Member Goes Silent

Connie Shroades, a member services representative at Tanner Electric Cooperative, went the extra mile in reaching out to a member in distress. (Photo Courtesy: Tanner Electric Cooperative)

As a member services representative at Tanner Electric Cooperative, Connie Shroades is used to taking action when calls come in.

But sometimes the calls that don’t come in are even more important.

That was the case recently for the North Bend, Washington-based cooperative when an active member who routinely calls about outages and billing suddenly went dark during a major storm, concerning Shroades.

After investigation, Shroades ended up navigating icy roads to transport the ailing member to a physician and then returned her safely home.

It’s a sterling example of how member service representatives can make a big difference in the lives of their consumer-members by knowing a bit about their habits and tendencies.

“I don’t know how people do it when they work for a corporation that doesn’t allow them time to get to know their members,” said Shroades, who is approaching her fifth anniversary with the cooperative.

“For some of those older folks, we might be the only person they get to talk to all week. That helps us when we get into situations where we have to decide what to do, because we know their patterns and know their habits,” she said.

The incident arose following a mid-January storm with extensive ice damage that knocked out power for several hours and put a Tanner substation offline when a transmission line feeder went down due to a fallen tree.

While Shroades had not met the woman, she knew from phone calls and community experiences that she was a petite widow who proudly got in her prescribed number of daily steps. As the Tanner team worked 17-hour days during the storm, Shroades realized she had not heard from the member, who had called a few days earlier to pay her bill.

“After the storm, we knew she had been sick and we hadn’t heard from her. She usually calls during a storm. So it was unusual that she didn’t call,” Shroades said.

Shroades reached out by phone on a Friday to no avail. She drove to the member’s house later that day in the hopes of seeing her face to face. The weekend passed without contact, and Shroades and Tanner MSRs tried landline calls, cellphone calls, notes on the door and emails to reach the member.

Finally, the member returned a landline call on Monday—cell service in her area is spotty, at best—and said she needed to go to the doctor. Shroades knew the woman did not have relatives in the area, and her neighbors were pretty much blocked in on an icy road.

“I asked, ‘Can you drive there?’ She said, ‘No.’ So, I asked the office if it would be OK to get her to urgent care because we know where she lives,” Shroades said.

In the meantime, she urged the member to move carefully, fearing a fall. Borrowing her son’s car with studded tires, Shroades drove to the house and found a weak, frail, but determined woman.

The member resisted entreaties to go to the emergency room, was treated for dehydration and released back to Shroades’ impromptu chauffeur service. “She just wanted to go home and rest. She did call us back a couple of days later and said, ‘Oh, I feel so much better, I have new friends now at Tanner Electric.’”

“What Connie did went above and beyond the call of duty, and that’s part of the cooperative spirit,” said Kevin Burns, chief financial officer at Tanner Electric. “We’re very proud of what she did, which exemplifies the way our MSRs represent Tanner Electric.”

Shroades is pleased the event ended well, but she also feels it carries a larger lesson for MSRs and cooperatives—know your members, and if that’s difficult, build a network that can help in a pinch.

“We have folks who live farther out than this member, to the point that it might be an hour ride to get to them. So we try to keep people nearby who can get to them—maybe a former board member or one of our active members. ‘Have you heard about this member? How are they doing? Do you have someone who can check on them?’” she said. “We have to take care of our elderly members.”

Steven Johnson is a contributing writer at NRECA.