Classical Gas


"...To avoid termination of service, call immediately to give us your meter reading or arrange for us to gain access to your home," said the lady on the answering machine.

It was my friendly neighborhood gas company, calling to chat and catch up (read: threatening me again). Part of an ongoing saga, where my meter is inside my home, and the gas company simply can't understand why I'm never home to let them in to read it...

Because I am off working so I can pay my jinormous gas bill.

Well, naturally, by the time I got their thoughtful message on Friday evening, the gas company was closed. So I picked up the phone on Saturday and gave them a call.

The automated voice at Gas Company Central said, "Are you calling to report a fire, explosion or smell of gas?"

It was a nice reminder that other people had things worse off than me. I mean, I might be waging the war against an outdated bureaucratic utility system, but at least nothing had gone up in thirty-foot flames.

I waited for Robo-Operator to say what number to press for more options, but I was met with frosty silence.

Then she came back on. "I didn't catch that. Let's try typing in your answer."

"Type in? Type in what? What's going on? Is this a quiz? Does she mean use my touchtone phone to type in something? If so, what are my options and..."

Robo-Operator: "You didn't respond."

Me: "I know, I know, but when did this become voice-activated? Couldn't you mention it's voice-activated?! Otherwise, I'm just some schlub talking to herself."

"I'll put you in touch with a Customer Service Representative," assured Robo-Operator.

Cool," I thought. "That's more like it."

So the line went silent. Silent. So, so silent. No Muzak, no self-aggrandizing marketing message... I stood there, phone pressed to my ear, grooving to absolutely nothing. "Have they cut me off? Am I in a queue? Should I hang up?"

Finally, another automated voice said, "All of our Customer Service Representatives are busy. Please hold for the next available Customer Service Representative."

So I waited. More silence. Waited. Waited. Waited...

Kittens grew into cats and raised more cats that wore little outfits for pictures on blogs and then got too old for photo ops and had to retire and...

Finally: "Emergency services," said a man's urgent voice. "Are you calling to report an explosion?"

"Oh, God, no!-- I'm so sorry!" I had visions of houses with thirty foot flames pouring out of them because I was selfishly blocking the way by trying to keep my heat from being turned off.

"The Customer Service offices aren't open on Saturday," the man told me. "Call back Monday."

Sigh.

But not to be deterred because, y'know, it was -2 degrees out and the thought of having an Alaskan cruise brought indoors, straight to me courtesy of the gas company, was currently unappealing... I figured I'd try to at least give them my meter reading. So I called the number again and spoke loudly and clearly to the Robo-Operator...

Who warms up quite quickly when you actually get to know her.

I asked for the meter reading option, which she assured me could be done 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

They then asked for my 39 digit account number. I read that off to them. They asked for me to confirm my 39 digit account number. I confirmed it...

They asked for my meter reading. I gave them my meter reading...

They asked me to confirm the numbers of my meter reading. I confirmed the numbers of my meter reading and...

"We cannot accept your meter reading at this time. Please talk to a Customer Service Rep about your account or visit us on the web at www.annoyingnaturalgasconglomerate.com"

I slammed down the phone.

Now, at this point, I think I went just insane enough that optimism shone through. I was determined to find a loophole here. So I thought, "Okay, if you people won't take my reading via phone, I will go to www.annoyingnaturalgasconglomerate.com and give my reading there. That'll work right?"

I imagine you know what happened.

"Invalid meter reading," it said, after I spent twenty minutes entering passwords and account numbers and waiting for things to load.

Gas Company-- 1. User-friendly customer service-- zippo.

Now I will have to take half a day of work off this week to let the gasman into my house. Because they only make appointments in four-hour windows, Monday through Friday, from 8am to 4pm.

Yes, one half-a-day of my whopping ten days vacation a year, sacrificed to the Utility Gods.

The whole thing sorta gives me indigestion.

Hm. Maybe that's where they're getting the natural gas...

They must be making billions.

Update: I called just now and they are closed for Martin Luther King day.

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42 comments:

Meghna said...

If you are working hard to pay the gas bill, aren't you working for them? :P

If so, don't they have every right to force you take some leave to adjust to the situation?

You should be thankful to them, that they didn't throw you out of the job :P

Jenn Thorson said...

Meghna- I'm thinking with that trail of logic, you might have a very bright future ahead of you at a utility company-- y'know, if that writing gig falls through. :) Heh-heh.

Ann's Rants said...

Kittens grew into cats and raised more cats etc...

That is brilliant. See wasn't it all worth it for this lil' masterpiece you've created?

Probably not, but its a nice consolation prize.

Jenn Thorson said...

Ann- See, you folks getting a laugh out of it sorta soothes the pain and rage a bit.

unfinishedrambler said...

But it doesn't soothe it completely, does it? You're still ticked, aren't you? ;) Just trying to get you going on a Monday morning.

Tomorrow, they'll probably be closed for the Inauguration.

Jenn Thorson said...

UnfinishedDude- I am actually still ticked. And I suspect if they are closed for the Inauguration (which I can totally see happening) you will hear me shrieking all the way from this side of the state.

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

Oh wow. Is there any way to schedule a dental appointment or haircut and make the most of your missing half day? I can recommend some good Netflicks.

Jenn Thorson said...

Prefers- Well, unfortunately, as they can't specific when they'll show up within that four-hour window, I'm kind of just stuck waiting at home for them.

I think I will try to make the most of it with happy movie-goodness...

And possibly a lynch mob. :)

(Kidding, kidding!...

Well, no, not really much...)

Jonny's Mommy said...

Oh does this ever sound familiar to me. Used to have the same run around with the local hospital billing office, who assured us our concerns were of importance to them. Yeah right, they never, NEVER answer, which allows them to send my bill to a collection agency, or involves me physically walking into the building to set up a payment plan.. and taking work time to do it, so I'm losing money that will eventually go to them! No kidding, I think they billed me for Jonathan's birth like three times. I kept telling them that the kid is great, but no way am I paying half a million for him.

Jaffer said...

I hope it will all be sorted out within this week ! :)

I was talking to my co-worker about this since I still have to experience dealing with the gas company.
He too has his meter indoors and explained that they would come to read the meter every month anyway - on scheduled dates even if they'd submit their reading online.
And if it was not possible the meter could be read, the company sends him a system generated bill based on past usage.

But he's also fortunate enough to get hold of someone to sit his house anyway during those scheduled meter reads.

Right now, I have a very good mind for switching banks !
You see, they have updated their security measures and what happens now is when ever I have to deal with them, I feel like they are trying my patience - guilty until proven innocent !
I also have a good mind to lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

Jane Doe said...

'Kittens grew into cats and raised more cats that wore little outfits for pictures on blogs and then got too old for photo ops and had to retire and...'

OMG that is hilarious!

I hate utility companies. Nothing is ever easy with them. Anytime I have to deal with them I want to have everyone in customer service round up and shot.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jonny's Mommy- And they KNOW you can't just return him for a full refund, so they've really got you cornered there. :)

Jaffer- You're friend's setup is like mine-- estimated billing-- but I guess twice a year regulations say they MUST read the meter themselves-- in person. Everyone I know who I'd trust to let them in works. The thing that bugs me most is I have automatic billing-- so they are always paid. Yet they treat me, as you say about your bank, guilty until proven innocent. They seem just certain I'm stealing gas somehow. What a trip, eh?!


Jane- I hear ya... OHhhh how I do hear ya. I have to try to keep in mind that it's not the individual employees that are at fault, though. It's the corporate rules that give the businesses so much power over their customers.

Tiggy said...

I have such a short temper, by this point I'd be yelling "Screw your gas! I'm gonna burn wood from now on!"

Then freeze to death just to annoy them.

Babs (Beetle) said...

Oh don't even get me started on these customer service calls! I think I wear a pathway into my carpet pacing up and down with the phone in my hand, and a totally exasperated expression on my face! Nothing ever seems to get resolved either.

Jenn Thorson said...

Tiggy- Talk to me about that plan after tomorrow-- when I try calling a third time to book an appointment to have my meter read, only to discover they're closed for the inauguration. :)

Babs- Seriously, why does it always seem like dealing with these customer service places is some cross between a Mad Tea Party, and a Monty Python skit?

Melanie said...

Ok, I sat down with my lunch to read a couple blogs. I now have indigestion on your behalf.

I hate dealing with customer-you-can't-have-service people. Last summer I spent three months trying to get the satellite receiver dish for my internet repaired. Three months!!! And had to leave work an hour early when the guy finally did come to fix it.

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- Three months... yipes. And sorry about the indigestion-- here is a virtual antacid to help. :)

Tony Single said...

Seriously though, how does this company manage to keep going if it refuses to keep up with the times? This is the kind of thing that would make me magically reach my arm down the phone line and throttle the morons who almost WILFULLY seem to be making it impossible for you to give them their stupid, precious meter reading! "We want it but not really because tormenting you is much more fun, and we thrive on torment rather than cold, hard moolah, which incidentally we'll take too just while we're at it!" Grrr...

Vic said...

What, they kept you on hold all that time and no "Wildfire" or "Muskrat Love" to soothe the nerves?

I'm suspicious of this "automation" stuff.
I think they all are secretly huddled around the phone, waiting for you to lose your mind, and then they giggle like little girls.

Jenn Thorson said...

Tony- I KNOW! I know the technology is available to install on the meter inside the house, so the meters can actually be read outside of it. But they haven't installed this system. No, instead they want me to spend $3,000 to put the meter outside for them.... nuh-uh. Nothin' doing.

Vic- I rather wondered whether they weren't taping me, during that silence, listening to me ask rhetorical questions like, "Am I still connected? Hello, is anyone there?" And then cursing like a long-shoreman. :)

Adullamite said...

We keep hearing that in the US everybody gives 'service!' However all I hear are complaints! The only folk I deal with that do not work at weekends are this ISP company!
Gas, in between raising the prices to keep Putin in vodka, do have good cust serv ops on Sats, if you get past Robo cop.

Jenn Thorson said...

Adullamite- Some of our utilities are just really behind the times. These and some delivery agencies still seem to think there's always someone at home during the week. And it just doesn't work that way anymore. It's like they got stuck in the 1950s and haven't seen their way clear yet. :)

JD said...

i guess in the end you can be thankful you're not dealing with insane postal workers ....

Bobbie said...

Oh, I sympathize entirely -- with the absurd situation, with the four-hour appointment windows, ans with the Robo-Operator. I've had a few turns with each.

One of my favorite Robo-Operator ones, though, was an automated airline booking thingie. I phoned to book a quick shuttle flight from San Francisco to Reno, carefully responding to the prompts for date, departure city, and destination. After the last bit, R-O comes back on and says, "I think you said Rio. Is that correct?" Maybe I should've said yes. Never been to Brazil...

Jenn Thorson said...

JD- There is always that. The gasman at least doesn't typically get all in your face and retaliatory. :)

Bobbie- Rio... Reno-- oh, only a SMALL difference, right? :) I hear their Carnivale is a lot of fun. Probably beats Reno's. :)

Da Old Man said...

Customer service.
*snicker*

I have not witnessed it, though I have heard tales of it.
Utility company doesn't upgrade and come into 2009 because your choice is to take it, go to the other utility company, or simply build your own generating station.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

Good Lord. You just can't win for losing with these people. It's laughable. Well, for us, anyway.

Matt said...

They should give a few hours off from work paid so that you can take care of this situation.

If you can't, who knows the terror you will reek in the workplace??

Jenn Thorson said...

Da Old Man- Yes, customer service is a bit like the Abominable Snowman. Rumours abound, but no solid evidence.

Nanny- As long as there's some laughter somewhere about it, it helps. :)

Matt- I'll reek, all right! I mean... er... wait... let me rephrase...

Marvel Goose said...

All natural gas monopolies are regulated by a state government agency. In your case, that would be the Pennslyvannia Utility Commission.

Natural Gas Utilites live in fear that a customer will call and complain about then to the PUC.

http://www.puc.state.pa.us/

Make a good case to the PUC and you'll have a Natural Gas VP of something or the other offering to shovel your walk.

Unless your utility is a municipal owned natural gas provider -- they you are screwed.

Yeah, I work for a NatGas Utility.

Loved the line about the cats

Marvel Goose said...

oh, and did their website tell you that you read meters from right to left instead of left to right? This can be major. Here is why...

Let's say the right most dial is at a 7 and the next dial is halfway between 2 and 3. In that case, the second number would be three because the digit below is a 7 (on a scale of 10). Move up the dials in this manner remembering that you always round up if the last digit was above five and below if it was under 5. Exactly five means you go up.

Figuring out where the dial is when it is not exactly on a number becomes critical on the 3rd and fourth dial because being off by 1 will be expressed in being off by a hundred or a thousand cubic feet.

Re-read it and see if your reading changes!

Well, I made it through 6 blogs before I started rattling off again...

Jenn Thorson said...

Marvel- Actually, my gas company has a facility online where you can move the dial hands to where they are on your dials, and then it tells you the reading. So you can't really screw anything up.

(Otherwise, it is seriously confusing!)

THIS I give them huge credit for. It was a great idea. But they really need to user-test how their phone system is set up, and the information they give to their customers which always seems to contradict itself.

Jay said...

Oh, how I hate those automated phone answering options menus - especially the ones who tell you helpfully that you didn't respond.

They really cut you off if they can't read your meter? Over here, they just guess, which is a good incentive to be in when they call, because they overestimate enormously and charge you the earth, just to be on the safe side.

Tiffany said...

When I opened this post in my email, Google helpfully offered me the opportunity to "add appointments in 4-hour blocks, Monday January 26" to my calendar. Automation at it's best yet again...

But don't let them push you around. It's probably too cold for them to legally turn off your gas.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- Well, whether or not they really do cut the gas off, I don't necessarily want to test out. The reconnecting would be a pain, plus cost fees.

Tiffany- Oh, isn't that just so nice of Google... Sorry 'bout that! Your busy schedule might have just gotten even fuller. :)

I've got an appointment with them for Friday afternoon now-- so a semi-long weekend for me, which is nice. I'm trying to make lemonade out of the situation. And then I'll be back in the same situation with them in another six months...

Feh.

chyna said...

I don't know about your state but here it is illegal to turn off the heat in the winter months. I always wanted to test that out just to see. ;)

lunaticg said...

Kakakakaka....
Sorry but it sound funny to me. In this world nowadays, we will stumble with more and more robot then human.
*sigh*

ettarose said...

Jen, any automated service sucks butter beans. All of them. What happened to the days of speaking with a human being. We pay enough to hire a couple.

Drowsey Monkey said...

robo-operators are the worst! We have "Emily" at Bell Canada. If you ever hear a Canadian saying "Emily is a Bitch" you know they've just been stuck in telephone hell with the phone company. I even bet Emily as a name for kids has gone way down.

Jenn Thorson said...

Chyna- Lately with the negative temps, that's not so much been a risk I want to take. :) You'll find me like Jack Nicholson at the end of the Shining, all frozen in place.

LunaticG- Possibly so. I just wish the robots had a bit more user-testing! :)

EttaRose- Yes, I agree with the butterbeans-suckishness. :) Unless people-- REAL PEOPLE-- genuinely test to see how humans think and use it.

Drowsey- Emily?! You mean they tell you your Robo-Operator's name? Ours are always anonymous-- so I guess we don't find out what CPU they live in and get 'em.

timethief said...

OMG! What a horror story. What you have gone through is next to unbelievable. I'm flabbergasted.

Jenn Thorson said...

TimeThief- Yes, I was flabbergasted too, the first time I found out their rules and hours. And it seems every time I deal with them it's a little bit different...

And a little bit more frustrating.

At least when I finally got through the service rep was nice. They had that going for them.