21 July 2005

Eskom's crappy customer service

Background for non-South Africans:

Eskom is South Africa's government-owned electricity monopoly. Let me stipulate that I live out in the sticks, and so expect a higher level of difficulty with electric power, telephone and internet access than city-dwellers. On the other hand we also pay substantially more for power than said city-dwellers.

I have been trying since December 2004 to have Eskom check the quality of our power supply. Low-voltage conditions - outside the allowed engineering tolerances - have to date cost me 3 computer power-supplies, one (expensive) laptop motherboard and several of those small transformers that power all kinds of appliances. Eskom did install a monitoring device on my power line in January, but to date I have had absolutely
no feedback from them.

On 8 July we experienced a power outage lasting about 19 hours, costing me an entire working day. For at least the first few hours there was a persistent voltage of 28V present on our plugs. Now, I believe that Eskom, like any other electricity supplier, is legally required to supply electricity within set parameters - 230V +-10% here. Clearly 28V is well outside of all acceptable legal and engineering parameters.

Just to add insult to injury, Eskom's call-centre is not on a toll-free line! Customers get to pay (per-second billing here!) for being kept on hold. My tolerance for listening to elevator-music expires after 20 minutes so perhaps queue times go longer than this on occasion. I'll never know.

So here follows my email to them of today (spelling errors corrected) - lets see whether they bother to respond.

Further to an SMS received by myself from Eskom Customer Service on 12 July 2005, in response to my complaint on 8/7/05 (your ref. 1110678) regarding use of an 086 (caller pays local rate) telephone number for reporting problems in Eskom's network:

1. Cost shifting.

My complaint was NOT specifically about the length of time spent waiting in the queue for your call-centre to respond to calls, but about the fact that Eskom is COST-SHIFTING.

You are pushing the cost of reporting problems onto the consumer; problems which, in my experience, are within Eskom's network 100% of the time, and NOT with any customer equipment. This cost includes the frequently long periods "on hold" waiting for response from your call centre. This cost shifting would be inexcusable, even if all calls were accepted within (say) 60 seconds, but it is even more unacceptable when the customer has to carry the call cost of being on-hold for up to 20 minutes.

2. You fail to properly respond to customer service complaints.

Your SMS stated that you were unable to reach me on my landline (home phone). True enough. But you evidently had my cellphone number, since you were able to send an SMS to me. You obviously COULD NOT BE BOTHERED to actually phone me and have a live person respond to me on that self-same cellphone number. Your excuse that you "couldn't reach me" is clearly bullshit. Or is this just more cost-saving? I call it not being bothered to respond to a customer. After-all, its a monopoly; the customer can swallow your shoddy service or live without electricity.

3. Leaving voice-mail is a joke.

Your computer repeatedly tells us that if we are tired of waiting in the queue to have our calls answered we shuold leave voice-mail. Well, yes, we're probably tired of carrying the ever-mounting per-second cost of sitting in your callcentre queue, but my experience is that voice mails almost NEVER get a response. Only ONCE have I EVER had a response from leaving a voicemail.

4. Refund of network charges

Why is it necessary to "request" that network charges be refunded in the case of extended power outages? I would think it should be automatic. If your IT department are unable to implement the necessary data-feed between your trouble-ticket and billing systems, please don't hesitate to enquire about my consulting fees as a software system designer.

Or perhaps you deliberately fail to inform your retail-customer base that they are entitled to such a refund as ANOTHER WAY TO SHIFT COSTS?

I will expect executive-level response to this email within 48 hours, failing which I shall initiate further, and much more public, action.
Actually I don't think I'll bother to wait...

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