Friday, 2 March 2012

Utility Blues

Always write angry letters to your enemies. Never mail them.

Those reading my Twitter feed recently might have already familiarized themselves with my frustrations, generated by the various utility companies I have had the dubious pleasure of interacting with during our recent move. With the exception of the water company, they have been failing me one by one with stuff that is at the very core of the services they are meant to provide. Through their failures, they have me waste hours of my time each week chasing them up.
It is therefore my pleasure to name and shame the following:
  1. Telstra: The joys of chasing them up and the “professional” services granted by some of their technicians have already been detailed here.
  2. Simply Energy: This gas/electricity provider sent meter men in before we moved in to our house in order to connect us, then sent us a letter saying we’ll be disconnected in a week’s time (their excuse: “it was a standard letter”), and then sent us a letter saying our gas will be disconnected because they can’t find the meter. WTF? What did the meter man do when they came to see the place, water the garden? And how could they miss the gas meter that’s right at the driveway’s entrance? My joys with Simply Energy are still ongoing, with them seemingly unable to post or email me my welcome pack despite repeated requests.
  3. RACV: For some reason this established insurance company is having problems listing my possessions (even though they've been listed at previous policies) and sending me my up to date insurance policies. Yes, despite repeated requests (a familiar theme there?). They also complained that I paid them on the day they asked me to pay them on, simply because that day happened to fall on a weekend and they didn't get the money till later. Surely they could have looked at their calendar before specifying the payment’s due date?
There’s more to name and shame, like our ADSL provider, but I’ll leave it for now in order to focus on one provider in particular. A provider that seems keen on failing us at any possible opportunity. Or rather, a provider that never misses a chance to fail us. That provider is Australia Post.
By now we have a regular ritual with Australia Post. Every time we go on holiday we ask for our post to be withheld; that’s for security reasons, to prevent would be burglars from figuring out we’re not home through the pile of mail at the post box. Alas, each time we come back from holidays we find a pile of boxes at our door step. This triggers what is by now a workflow I am well familiar with:
  1. I call Australia Post to ask what’s going on.
  2. They never call me back despite promises.
  3. I wait for their “10 to 14 business days to call you back” elapse to call them back again.
  4. They tell me they have slapped the hand of whoever it was that should have withheld our post.
  5. I ask for my money back (withholding post for around two weeks costs around $20!).
  6. They’re surprised by this request.
  7. Eventually, after a month or two, I get my money back.
It’s like clockwork – we’re going through the same movie every time we go on holidays.
We are not on holiday now, though; we just moved houses. As part of the move I paid Australia Post $75 to have my mail redirected from the previous address to the new one. Does it work? Of course not. Disregarding mail items without our explicit names on them, which are still delivered regularly (virtually all are junk), we still get the occasional important letter that slips by to our old address. Say, a bill that needs paying. Effectively this means I have to check my old post box regularly, but then what was the point of those $75 that I paid in the first place?
The recent highlight came in the form of a package sent to us months ago by my Israeli parents. It was sent to our old address; we haven’t heard anything about it till we received a note telling us to pick it up from the post office yesterday. The catch, or rather, the catches?
    1. That notice is one of those “final notices”, where Australia Post is telling us they’ll destroy our item if we don’t pick it up soon.
    2. This implies Australia Post actually notified us of this package’s arrival before. Well, they didn’t: they didn’t leave any notification at our old post box, nor did they at our new one.
    3. Now we have to pick the box up from the post office near our old address, some four kilometres away from where we now live. That’s when Australia Post has two perfectly fine offices much nearer to where we now live, the place where we paid $75 to get our post forwarded to. And I thought the purpose of postal services is to brings the packages to us rather than bring us to the packages.
      As I said, Australia Post never misses a chance to fail. Their failures, as well as the others’, should be at the top of our minds every time we contemplate things like, say, moving. At the higher level, these failures indicate that both government monopolies as well as the competitive free market where competition is supposed to keep service providers on their toes don’t work. Somehow, it’s always the little person at the end that gets screwed. You know, us.

      Image by Alicakes*, Creative Commons license

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