One of the recurring themes featured on this organ is a subset of the oldies’ general complaint that Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be [© the 1960 musical by Lionel Bart], viz. that one of the most heinous iniquities inflicted upon the human race in the 21st Century is that of large – and small – organisations of all descriptions, whilst professing publicly to the world that they welcome customer contacts, de facto doing their very best to avoid them.
The most common versions of this – almost always inflicted via “automated telephone systems whereby the customer is encouraged to get in touch on a given “catch all” phone number explicitly set up for the purpose – then provide a numbered sequence ostensibly designed to identify/isolate the customer’s “issue of the moment” and then deal with it under a number of different headings ranging from four to seven options (which the customer then presses his/her selected number of choice on his phone keypad) in which the last (e.g. 7) is always “… for and anything else” [i.e. not already covered by numbers 1 to 6].
I experienced a classic example of the genre yesterday which I will now share with my fellow Rusters – albeit with the identity of the organisation concerned (and indeed myself) suitably disguised in order to protect the guilty, or should that be expressed as “primarily myself” from any accusation of defamation or similar.
For reason which need not detain us here, the property at which I reside had two distinct units as far as its electricity supply is concerned: the first covers the cottage dwelling we occupy and the second is a one acre site on which there are a number of agricultural buildings and storage units.
The former is served by one electricity supply company (“Company A” hereafter) and the latter not only by a different one (“Company B” hereafter), but also on a deal whereby it is classed as a “commercial” unit, rather than a domestic one.
[As it happens, I have queried this designation because we don’t run a business on our property and the “commercial designation” may be a hangover from my predecessor owners, but this is a red herring as far as today’s post is concerned].
Several months ago – not at my instigation, but as an unsolicited suggestion from Company B – an operative visited our one acre (supposedly “commercial”) unit and installed a “smart-meter” which at a stroke would remove any need for us to supply future “meter readings” because Company B would be able to identify our usage directly itself from time to time via the “smart meter”.
Fast-forward to last week, when Company B sent me two envelopes – the first containing an invoice and statement informing me that I was now required to pay over £500 in respect of our use of electricity on our “commercial” unit over the most recent period, and the second giving (1) details of the new (bigger) rates at which its electricity will be supplied in future; and (2) asking me to supply them with a meter reading.
Yesterday I decided to call Company B in order to discuss the above both generally and in detail.
I therefore phoned the given “Customer Service“ number twice.
On the first occasion – having listed to the suggested numbers from 1 to 4, none of which seemed to address the range of issues I wished to discuss – I opted to press “5” (the “any other subject” option).
Shortly afterwards I was subjected to muzak and – every two minutes or so – a lady’s voice assuring me that my call was important to them, but the volume of phone traffic was high at the moment; however, despite this, my call would be answered soon “by an expert”.
After 45 minutes of hanging on with nothing happening, I decided to give up and have some lunch.
Two hours later, I decided to return to the fray. This time – trying something different in case this advanced my cause – I chose “option 1” (“to discuss your bill or payment”) in the hope that this might at least “get the party started” as far as my long list of issues was concerned.
After another half an hour of “hanging on” [for details, see above], I decided to give up for the day – simply because I had a raft of better things that I had to do rather than “hang on” indefinitely waiting for an “expert” from Company B to attend to my call.
My issues were relatively simple.
Firstly, Company B had just billed me for over £500 – I had no understanding as to why of how they had chosen this figure.
Why? Because the “smart meter” that their own contractor had installed (and from which they should have been taking readings) was displaying an electricity consumption over the past period of “000000”.
Secondly, Company B had specified that the meter from which they now wished me to take and advise them of a reading had a given serial number [for present purposes let me make up one of these – say it was “123WXYZ”].
I couldn’t take a reading from this meter even if I had wanted to.
Why? Because Company B’s operative who had installed the “smart meter” about three months ago had left behind (as he was required to do), affixed to it, an official form which he had completed in longhand, indicating not only that he had installed his “smart meter” on a certain day … but that, on the same day, he had simultaneously removed from the premises a meter with the serial number “123WXYZ” (and presumably taken it away in his van).
As Rusters may recognise, I have a number of important issues to discuss with Company B and so far have spent 75 minutes over two phone calls “hanging on” waiting for someone at company B to speak to me.
I shall return to the fray later this morning.
How modern youngsters manage to cope with such frustrations completely passes me by – especially when it seems they can take exams, buy houses, book holidays, attend virtual meetings, and generally do everything they would ever need to do … by using their smartphones.
However, not if you actually want to speak to someone, apparently!
Is this progress for the human race? Not in my view.