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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Embarrassing the power company to get better service

I've been known to publicly embarrass utility companies when they drop the ball on service issues. My first example was back in the '90s when USWest took months to deliver my ISDN, and then somehow got right on it when I called them out in a public demo. This is another case where my nagging got things done.

For a time, I lived in a far-flung part of the service area for CPS outside San Antonio. It was ridiculously bad service. We'd have power outages that would always be measured in hours even for relatively minor things. Some connections inside the company reported that there was some kind of manual action required to reconnect the entire neighborhood of 340 homes every time it tripped.

I happened to run the web site of that neighborhood and used that position to get something done. I put a prominent notice up at the top of our site which basically said "CPS outages got you down? Us too. See the log.", and it linked to a list. There, it listed the start time, end time, and duration of every failure. I kept it updated through the months as we suffered through countless events.

Finally, one day, there was a note waiting for me at the entry station upon arriving home. It was a printout of my log web page, and someone had added a bunch of notes to the right of each entry. There were things like "wreck took out pole", "bird shorted primaries", and maybe a throw-down squirrel or two.

They had noticed.

Now, what happened next might be a coincidence, but they started replacing the poles which fed our area and also added a second level of lines at the same time. This work actually generated more than one outage when the new lines broke and shorted across the old ones below it (no, I'm not making this up), but when it was done, our service had markedly improved.

I think the key in those situations is that someone at those companies actually felt the embarrassment. They didn't want to feel that way, so they did something about the root cause and got me squared away.

Now, with that said, can you think of big companies in your life who don't care about you? Maybe they feel no embarrassment. This might reflect those inside the company. If everyone inside a place is a cold, unfeeling automaton, how can you expect anything more from them?