Pepco: Staying Connected by Dumping Customer Calls
When the remnants of Hurricane Isabel swept through the Washington area in September 2003, popular outrage against the power company's failure to be honest and straightforward with power-less customers boiled over. Obviously, Pepco couldn't control the forces of nature; the outages were inevitable. But the least the power company could do was to let folks know how far down the list they might be, and maybe give some rough estimate of how many days it would take to restore the juice.
Yet Pepco suffered a devastating loss of public confidence because the company persistently refused to give out any information or issued bland assurances that everything possible was being done to fix things up. "We cannot give firm estimated power restoration times," a Pepco spokesman told me back then. "We are assessing the overall system. No specific areas have been targeted."
Lots of reports and investigations and political speeches later, Pepco promised to improve its information systems, to let people know where they stand, even if the news is bad.
Flash forward to flash flooding, June 2006: I had thought Pepco had really improved its methods. I was wrong. Our power went out tonight and when I called Pepco, I got a useless recording about how there are lots of outages. At the conclusion of the recording, I was transferred automatically to a machine that asked me a series of questions about what aspect of billing I wanted help with. This turned out to be a voicemail jail that no amount of button punching could crack. I tried again, only to find in the second call that pressing buttons related to outages referred me to a second phone number, supposedly dedicated to outages.
But calling that number led to precisely the same recording about how there's bad weather around and some folks don't have power. Gee, thanks. This time, it was possible to punch through to a machine that would supposedly record our outage. But that process ended with an automated dumping of the call--and never was there even an option to speak to a human being, to find out anything about the repair schedule, or to inquire as to whether our outage was even registered in Pepco's system.
Pepco seems to have little interest in providing information to its customers. The regulatory agencies that hammered away at this issue for years appear to have accomplished nothing.
How's your power company handling this crush of outages?
POSTSCRIPT (8 AM): You're not going to believe this, but it's true. At 2:18 a.m., well after the power had gone back on, Pepco delighted my household by phoning us to announce their success. "This is Pepco calling to see if your power is restored," the woman on the other end said after I frantically grabbed for the phone--after all, at 2:18 a.m., the only reason anyone could be calling is a death in the family. I managed to grumble some form of confirmation that the power was on, and that was that. Is there another industry on the globe that includes calling customers at 2:18 a.m. in its service manual? Exactly what harm would there have been in waiting til 9?
By Marc Fisher |
June 26, 2006; 9:36 PM ET
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