A “utility” is defined as a public service, “… a system to provide water or electricity… a cell tower network, or the like”. On dictionary.com, utility is also labeled as an “elementary level” word, meaning a grade school child should be able to understand its meaning. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere, because elementary is the perfect way to describe the customer service I’ve received while setting up the utilities in my new house.
Power. Water. Gas. Internet. I’d call these utilities the four cornerstones of a functioning modern house, wouldn’t you? Without them you’re just looking at your walls (if you can see them in the dark) wishing you could take a hot shower and check your email. So why is it so difficult to get the utilities going again when you move, especially when they’re already up and running in the first place?
Power was almost an open and shut-it-off case for me. I called the supplier to transfer the electricity into my name, which seemed a straightforward process until they sent their technician to the house. Here we have the classic case of the right hand not talking to the left. The technician proceeded to turn the power off. How my neighbor – the former owner – had the presence of mind to stop him in his tracks is beyond me (I owe her something from my kitchen now). She saved me a week or two of “the lights are off and somebody’s home”.
Water comes from a well where I live. The best example of good customer service may be no customer service because if you have a well, you don’t have to call anyone at all. Assuming your well pump is working (and you have power) you simply turn the lever and out comes the water. But then you realize the water is cold, which is why you need…
Gas – or propane in my case – requires a call to customer service because they won’t let it flow without a safety inspection of the system. I get it (now) since I have a 500-gallon tank under my house. This is good news and bad news. The good news: I’m “energy independent” of a piped network, so as long as my tank has propane I have heat (and a stove to cook on, and a fireplace to enjoy). The bad news: I get charged for the 500 gallons in one shot instead of paying by the month. Whoa. My household budget went off the rails with that bill. And just how big is a 500-gallon tank of propane anyway? I’m not sure I want to know.
If not for internet, I’d say I’d fared pretty well with setting up my utilities but bless their hearts AT&T makes a big-screen adventure out of the simplest request. Your phone call takes you to a menu of prompts, then to another menu, then to another menu, until the recorded voice seems to capitulate by finally transferring you to someone who can actually talk (but not think). The someone who comes on the line is clearly not from your neighborhood (or even your country). The someone says, “Yes, hello, and how is your day today, Mr. David?” Mr. David? No one calls me that ever. The someone then follows a scripted line of conversation by launching into a series of sales pitches to try to get you to bundle with a bunch of stuff you don’t need. The someone sighs when you repeatedly decline, and finally says something like, “I’ll now be transferring you to another representative who can help you with that”.
I have to pause, no, stop my AT&T rant for three reasons now. One, my frustrations will continue for twice as many words as I have space for today. Two, it’ll drive me to drink just revisiting the experience. Three, if AT&T reads this post they may be tempted to turn off my internet. Very long story short, I lost track of the number of someones I talked to, failed AT&T’s screening process three times because of poor credit history (wrong), an incorrect social security number (wrong again), and a street address where AT&T doesn’t provide service (is three times the charm?)
Go figure, the only way I finally succeeded with my internet setup was to request the service through AT&T’s website. The tech showed up as scheduled, set up the service, and now I’m able to type my blog posts again. Small miracles.
Because of the newish ways we now communicate with one another (most of them electronic) getting good help or prompt help or even the right help is more of a challenge than ever. When I share these adventures with family or friends I always hear my late mother remarking, “Oh, for heaven’s sake”. Maybe she would’ve been better saying, “Heaven help us”, because customer service for utilities down here on earth just isn’t cutting it.