Monday, March 7, 2016

The Gas Company Strikes Back...The Whole Story

Mistakes happen.

And bad customer service reigns supreme throughout the land.

At least this seems to be my life with the local gas company. For nearly 20 years I have been the unfortunate recipient of mistakes and bad customer service. Usually in the same visit. Things have gotten so bad I am more surprised when a visit goes off without a glitch. Shouldn't my experience be the opposite?

Is it too much to expect to place a phone call, discuss the price per gallon, argue over the extra fees (Come on people, a fuel surcharge fee? That's so last year. Besides, gas is the lowest its been in years--next thing you know, they'll be charging a hose connect fee to complete the delivery.), get a final total, go pay for it in person (because they overcharged your credit card on the phone), get and look at the receipt before leaving (because they put it on another account), get thanked for using their service (never happens), and expect delivery of the product in a timely fashion (if it shows up at all)? Well, is it?

Gimme a break!

If you missed the earlier tale of my bad gas experiences, you can check it out here.

In late October when the first chilly morning dawns (Chilly is subjective here, because as the MAFW, my hormones fluctuate on an hourly basis, so your definition of chilly might be slightly different. For me, it's usually noticeable frost on the windshield) I pull out the Farmer's Almanac and read their projections for the winter ahead. I also look at the local television station's long-term forecast and then take an afternoon hike searching for any woolly bear caterpillars (more brown and less black) that might be around (sometimes, old school still works best). Based on those factors and the balance in my checking account, I send out positive thoughts to anyone that might be listening (for patience and a sense of humor) and make the call.

The following conversation occurred last fall:

Rep: "Hello? Heritage Propane. Can I help you?"

Me: "Hi, I'd like to place an order for propane, please."

Rep: "Sure. Do you have an account with us?"

Me: "Yes, I do."

Rep: "Sure. What's the account number?"

Me: "I'm not sure, I don't have paperwork from last year. Can you look it up another way?"

Rep: "Sure. What's your phone number?"

I rattled off my telephone number.

Rep: "I'm sorry, I don't have you in my system. Could it be listed under another name?"

Me: "Nope. I've had the same name for 48 years."


Rep: "Sure." (What is it with the sure?) "Let me check again? Could you repeat the number?"

Me: "Sure..."

Rep: "There you are, we had your named spelled wrong."

Me: "Not a problem. Happens all the time."

Rep: "I'm sure. How much gas did you want to order?"

Me: "How much is it?"

Rep: "Well, that depends on how much you purchase. The more you order, the cheaper it is."

Me: "I'm sure. I have a five-hundred gallon tank."

Rep: "Wow! That's big. What percentage are you on?"

(And that right there my friends is where she almost tripped me up. If you say you have less than a certain amount, the gas company says they have to perform a suck test to make sure there aren't any leaks in the system. And you know, there's a fee for that, too. I'm sure! The magic number is 10%; you never have less than that amount.)

Me: "I've got about ten percent."

Rep: "Okay then. The price is $1.29 a gallon."

Me: "Excuse me?"

Rep: "It's $1.29 a gallon."

Me: "Are you sure?"

Rep: "Of course, I'm sure."

I heard her running numbers through the calculator again and then she put me on hold.

Me: "Hello?"

Rep: "Sorry about that, but I'm new here and wanted to make sure I was doing everything correctly. You questioned the price I gave you and I wanted to be sure I was doing it right."

Me: "I'm sorry. I was just startled by the quote you gave."

Rep: "Too high?"

Me: "Are you kidding me? I've never paid less than $2.00 a gallon. I was in shock."

Rep: "I see. Okay, well how much would you like."

Me: "Fill 'er up..."

Rep: "You want me to fill it up?"

I started doing the calculations in my head. I recently returned from a two-week trip up the East Coast and it was less than two months before Christmas. A fill up would be a very large chunk of change that I really didn't want to pay, but the price was so good and I knew it would only be going up during the winter months. I could be warm now but end up eating Ramen noodles and Vienna Sausages during the Holidays. There's nothing wrong with that but I do have a fondness for more traditional holiday fare.

Me: "On second thought, let me get 300 hundred gallons. I checked my various sources and they said it wasn't supposed to be that cold this winter."

Rep: "I read a report here at the office that said that, too, but I saw a woolly worm the other day and it was completely black."

Me: "Uh oh. That's bad." We chatted some more while she rang up my total and once you added in the taxes and fees it was nearly $500. I was quite pleased with this because my total consumption for the year is never more than 425 gallons and I usually only purchase a 100 gallons at a time because it's so expensive.

Rep: "Okay, everything is set. Did you want to pay by credit card?"

Me: "Uh, no. I'll be up with a check later today."

Rep: "Sure. Thanks for calling. Have a good one."

I did go and pay by check later that day and the propane was delivered eight days later. I did have to call and ask about it at the one week mark because...well...I've had problems in the past. The delivery ticket was lost somewhere in the office and it was delivered the next day. (I only live three miles from the location.)

I was still happy. You can't beat $1.29...

...Or maybe you can.

On February 15, I checked the gauge carefully (I use carefully here because there is that time when I used a lighter as a flashlight to check the gauge one winter evening and almost blew myself up) on the buried propane tank and it was nearing 10%. It turned out that it hasn't been that cold this winter--certainly not for an extended period of time and for a moment, I thought about not ordering anymore gas. I could always put on a second sweater (I always wear one sweater because it's an old drafty house.)

I thought better of it when both cats looked at me and shivered. (Not really, but Wally sleeps on the vent.)

So I placed the call.

The price per gallon was now $1.89--certainly higher than $1.29, but way better than $2.79 or higher which is what I have paid in the past. I ordered a 100 gallons, verified my 10% (which was dropping fast), and paid the bill. The estimate for delivery was 7-10 working days (I would probably be out by then and they would try to get me to pay for the suck test. It's happened in the past.).

Imagine my surprise three days later when I returned home from Walmart (another place that sucks the money right out of your wallet) and found a delivery ticket in the door. I jumped out of Friend's truck, opened the lid and read the gauge. I almost passed out when I read it. It said 80%.

Me: "It says 80%."

Friend: "You're kidding?"

Me: "Maybe, the gauge is stuck." I stuck my hand further down in the tank and tapped the gauge several times. It didn't move.

Friend: "I don't think it's stuck."

Me: "WHY?"

Friend: "We got 369 gallons..."

It was Friday, after 4:00 pm. They close at four and are closed on the weekends. They don't offer anything online (although, they are working on that), so I had all weekend to think about it.

Me: "You're kidding, right? It says 369 gallons..."

...How could this happen? It's not like a 100 gallons and 369 gallons are anywhere close to each other on the meter. Was the driver distracted? Was he trolling Facebook? Was he taking a leak? Was he playing pocket pool? According to my calculations, that's almost four times the amount I should have received. What normally takes less than three minutes turned into over ten minutes? Was he on a break?

All of these questions and many more ran through my mind the entire weekend. But perhaps the most frustrating of all was the fact that someone was going to have to pay for it, and even though I told myself a million times that I wasn't going to, somehow, I knew that wouldn't be the case. It wasn't in the budget and for all I cared they could just come right back out to the house and suck it all back out. (I'm sure there's a fee for that, too!)

I dreaded making the call on Monday, but on the other hand, I couldn't wait to hear what the explanation was about the quadrupling of my order and how they were going to handle the situation. At least I wouldn't have to talk to the mean lady because she would have probably explained that it was all my fault and they were going to sue because I caused the driver undo anguish over the mistake.

I took a deep breath and placed the call.

Rep: "Heritage Propane? Can I help you?"

Me: "Hi, I'm Gianetta Palmer and I ordered gas last week, but there was a mistake with my delivery."

Rep: "Okay. What was the problem?"

Me: "Well, I ordered 100 gallons, but I received 369 gallons."


Me: "Hello?"

Rep: "I'm here. I think I know what you're talking about. What's your account number?"

I rattled off a few numbers and she continued.

Rep: "Okay, I have it right here. Yeah, the driver called right away and said he got distracted. Julie (?) worked a few numbers and we were able to take $.30 off the price per gallon and drop the price to $1.59 a gallon. I know it's a problem for you."


Me: "You're right! It's a big problem...." (I was very calm and polite.)

More silence.

Rep: "Okay, well let me talk to Julie again and work some numbers and I'll call you back. Is that okay?"

Me: "Sure."

She called back a short time later.

Rep: "I'm new here, but I saw in your account records that you've had problems in the past."

Me: "A few.."

Rep: "Well, that was before I was here but I sure am sorry (first time ever someone apologized) you're having this many problems. I mean it's not rocket science or something, we're selling gas."

Me: "That's true."

Rep: "Here's what we were able to do: You originally paid $1.89 a gallon for 100 hundred gallons. We reduced the original price to $.99 a gallon so deducting what you've already paid and adding the taxes and fees back in you will only owe us $161.82. And if that doesn't work for you I can give you the number to the main office and you can talk to the area manager."

The only thing I heard out of that conversation was $.99 a gallon.

Me: "You're gonna charge me $.99 a gallon for all of it?"

Rep: "Yes."

Me: "All 369 gallons of it?"

Rep: "Yes."

Me: "In the middle of winter?" (Two years ago I paid nearly $4 a gallon in February.)

Rep: "Yes, ma'am."

Me: "Okay." (Unbelievable!)

Rep: "And you don't have to pay for thirty days...."

I hung up the phone and just sat there waiting on the other shoe to drop. It had taken nearly twenty years and many, many mistakes but I will have to say that the gas company delivered this time. Unless an Ice Age develops in the next ten months I have enough gas to get through the end of the year. I was thrilled.

Or at least I was until I got the mail two days later. They sent the new bill and it didn't match what the customer rep told me on the phone. It was $25 more.

I thought about calling and complaining about the difference but thought better of it. I'd already saved several hundred dollars. Besides, knowing my luck it was probably an added fee because they had to bill me because I wouldn't pay over the phone.

Mistakes happen. There's bad customer service everywhere. But, sometimes if you're nice and calm, things might eventually go your way.

And I'll take 50% off any day...

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