On Friday morning I got a phone call from a marketing person at Grey Power Electricity, of which I’m a customer. She was responding to my email three days earlier in which I complained that I’d wasted a day because I wasn’t advised in time that a scheduled power outage that was supposed to affect my property had been cancelled.
To recap: I’d been advised weeks earlier that the outage would take place from 9am till 3pm last Monday. As I work from home I put in time over the weekend to complete the work I would normally do on Monday. My wife and I ended up going to Palmy for the day – not because we needed or wanted to, but because it would have been pointless sitting at home with no power. But at 1.55 pm, nearly five hours after the power was supposed to be switched off, I got a call on my mobile from GPE telling me that there had been no outage after all.
My email to GPE last Tuesday morning, which I posted on this blog, asked for (a) an explanation and (b) an offer of compensation for the time wasted and inconvenience caused. It probably won’t surprise anyone to learn that I received neither.
What I got from the GPE representative who phoned me was a chronology of events which showed that Powerco, the lines company that was supposed to be doing the job that got cancelled, didn’t notify GPE of the change until 10.21am. So as I surmised, Powerco’s incompetence was the starting point for the screwup.
However, that was compounded by GPE’s slack response. According to the timeline given to me by GPE, it was 12.30 before they started phoning affected customers. So, a two-hour delay. Why? That wasn’t clear.
All affected customers were contacted by 2pm, I was told, as if this was a satisfactory outcome. I must have been one of the very last customers to get the call. But given that it was five hours too late, why even bother?
I asked how many customers were affected, but she wasn’t sure; perhaps “a couple of hundred”. Neither could she tell me whether Powerco had explained the reason for cancelling the outage, or why it apparently sat on its hands for nearly an hour and a half before it occurred to someone that perhaps the customers should be notified.
More than once she “sincerely apologised”. She also said these things happened often – to which I responded that if that were the case, you’d expect the company to have systems set up to deal with them. She then corrected herself to say these things happened “from time to time” – but the same applies.
I asked whether GPE would consider any form of reparation, to which she replied, “Not at this stage” – which kind of implied that they might do so at a future date, which I think is about as likely as a herd of wildebeest stampeding through my backyard. It was the response I expected, since any olive branch extended to me would need to be extended to other disaffected consumers too, and GPE wouldn’t want to set a precedent.
She also noted, with what I thought was a faint tone of disapproval, that I had blogged on the subject, and subtly let it be known that she hoped I wouldn’t so again, as if this should be our little secret.
But here I am doing exactly that, and for a very good reason. In the grand scheme of things, one day’s inconvenience is a mere bagatelle. I’m mindful that there would very likely have been other consumers far more put out than I was, such as elderly or disabled people stranded at home. However I’m writing about my wasted Monday because consumers too often feel powerless when they get dicked around in myriad small ways. They are entitled to use every tool at their disposal to expose poor service and to shame slack companies into lifting their game. Negative publicity – even if it’s just a blog post from a solitary kvetcher in the provinces – is one thing risk-averse, image-conscious corporates hate.
Of course I always have the option of shifting to another electricity retailer. But while that might give me some moral satisfaction, it would likely be a pyrrhic gesture. Grey Power Electricity is hardly likely to mourn the loss of one customer, and in any case I’m not confident that other suppliers are necessarily any better. I think the better course is to stick with GPE and make a nuisance of myself.