In the shadow of Y2K: Preventing panic
March 16, 1999
by Thomas Hoffman
(IDG) -- Sure, you're confident your organization will be ready for year 2000. But convincing customers who've been scared silly by doomsday reports is a whole different matter.
Many companies are reacting to such concerns. Others, from banks to utilities, have launched offensives to see just how alarmed their customers are and to reassure them that it will be all systems go next New Year's Day.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, for instance, is surveying customers to determine if they're "ill-informed" or "panicked" about year 2000, said John Burns, a vice president at the Toronto bank.
The bank wants to figure out if depositors plan to withdraw significant portions of their savings toward year's end so it can decide how much cash to stock in its automated teller machines during the latter part of December.
"There are going to be [year 2000-related] disruptions, but not catastrophic outages. But public reaction could be worse than that," Burns said.
KeySpan Energy has received roughly 500 inquiries about its year 2000-readiness since 1997, primarily from its commercial customers.
The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based gas and electric utility is answering all customer inquiries with a letter detailing its millennium program. Utility representatives are even appearing on cable TV to let customers know energy will be generated and delivered during the winter months of next year, said Rick Siegel, vice president of technology operations at KeySpan in Hicksville, N.Y.
Later this month, KeySpan will sponsor a workshop for commercial customers at a Long Island country club to present its year 2000 program along with Bell Atlantic Corp., the Long Island Rail Road and other infrastructure providers.
"It's become the fashion to get these infrastructure providers to present [their year 2000 status reports] to their interested audiences," Siegel said.
Even the retail sector has had plenty of activity. Sears, Roebuck and Co. has fielded about 1,200 inquiries about the year 2000 compliance of a variety of products it sells -- everything from programmable thermostats to VCRs.
Sears instructs its call center agents to forward those questions to Dennis Grummer, head of the retailer's year 2000 project office at its Hoffman Estates, Ill., headquarters.
All questions answered
Grummer and his staff respond in writing to each request with information about the year 2000 status of the product in question and the retailer's overall millennium project. "Electric drills and vacuum cleaners are pretty much no-brainers," Grummer chuckled.
For the airline industry, New Year's is one of the busiest travel times, and travelers' fears are well-known.
United Air Lines has given its reservation agents a short, blanket statement to read to customers in case they ask. Reservation agents "don't get into a lot of detail because it's not their jobs," said a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based airline, but they do tell customers that their planes will be flying and problems aren't expected.
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