It’s a gas

When my power provider asked me if I would like to save a few pennies by paying my gas and electricity bills online, I jumped at the chance. After all, it’s an easy enough process – all I have to do is to take the readings every three months from the respective meters and enter them into a browser window. The provider’s system then generates the amount that I owe and I pay simply by entering my credit card details.

For years, the system has worked splendidly. Until, a couple of weeks ago, that is, when the company once again sent me the usual reminder that it was time to provide my new meter readings and pay the latest quarterly bill.

You see, during the period between my last meter reading and this one, a new gas meter was installed outside my house after the old one developed a leak. And, because of that fact, the reading I took from the new meter was lower than the reading I’d taken from the old unit in the previous quarter. Hence, the online system became ‘confused’ and would not accept it as valid.

Keen to rectify the matter and pay my bill as quickly as possible, I telephoned the power company to inform them of the situation. After making an extensive note of the new meter number, when it was installed and its current reading, the operator told me that the matter would be resolved in a matter of days.

But was it? No, it wasn’t. Three days later, when I received another electronic reminder to enter my details and pay my bill onto what I believed was an updated website, I was informed once more that the new gas meter reading was invalid, since it was lower than the old one.

Slightly miffed, I phoned the power company, which once again asked me to provide the same details that it had solicited before. This time, however, I was told that it would take at least 10 days for the system to be updated so that I could use it. Apparently, several managers needed to be called upon to rectify the matter.

In the meantime, of course, I received an email stating that my account was now overdue. And since I had not provided the company with a new meter reading, the company had estimated the amount of gas and electricity that I had used, demanding that I pay for it as quickly as possible. Needless to say, the estimation is most probably inaccurate, but I won’t know that for sure until the gas company fixes its e-commerce system.

Aside from all the time wasting involved, there’s an important lesson for any company − perhaps even your own − to learn from this debacle. And it’s quite a simple one − if you do decide to embrace the wonderful world of e-commerce, please ensure that you do it properly. If you don’t, you may stand to lose revenue from it. Perhaps you might even lose a few customers too.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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